View From the Top (2003)


Over the past 10 years or so, the Disney-owned “indie” company Miramax has become infamous for greenlighting and acquiring titles at a furious pace, sticking them on a shelf, and often drastically cutting them down before sending them halfheartedly into theaters. By the time some of these movies are released, it’s hard to tell if they were ever any good, misguided from the start, or still fixable with a little more patience. In most cases, they vanish before anyone can begin to care.

View From the Top may be the ultimate Miramax production, because through some kind of mystical convergence, it has not only been stuck on a shelf and heavily cut, but stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Miramax’s in-house movie star. If this movie were to somehow score a Best Picture nomination next year, Harvey Weinstein might reach a kind of instant personal nirvana, causing Miramax to implode.

The film is not Oscar material, even by the stretch of the wild Weinstein imagination. It’s a flight attendant comedy so head-slappingly predictable it feels like a movie in slow motion. But it’s likable enough to suggest that it deserved more of a chance before going through the Miramax shredder. It’s a hard movie to hate.

Which is not to say that some won’t hate it. I recall a friend of a friend’s disgust at About a Boy, and what she considered its implication that a single life is less meaningful than a married one. If you too disliked About a Boy, you probably won’t like A View From the Top, as it does imply (if implication can be this leaden) that success is less satisfying when you succeed alone. This is a tired romantic comedy trope, applied to either sex. View‘s Donna (Gwyneth Paltrow) and her boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) are certainly nice, but not interesting enough to rescue a plot this stale.

The movie begins with a chunk of voiceover by Donna, breezing through her “trashy” upbringing in rural Nevada. The narration obviously fills in for cuts made to an earlier version of the movie. The reconstructed story rushes haphazardly from Donna’s childhood, to her sudden interest in becoming a flight attendant, to her early position on commuter flights, and finally to training school for the posh Royalty Airlines. By the time Donna is in training (and mentored by Sally, a celebrity flight attendant played by Candice Bergen), the movie has slowed down to catch its breath, and several sorta-name actors have been left in the dust, reduced to minute-long guest appearances that were obviously once actual roles (Miramax now owes Rob Lowe, playing a co-pilot, and Marc Blucas, Donna’s high school boyfriend, some future undeserved supporting actor Oscars).

Mike Myers, on the other hand, has loads of screen time for his small part. He appears in the training section of the film as a one-eyed instructor unable to work as a flight attendant because of regulations barring his “disability.” He plays his scenes with goofy voice and broad gestures (he’s constantly holding things up to see them with his “good eye”), providing some big laughs. His imitation of a disgruntled passenger during a training drill is especially funny.

There are other laughs in A View From the Top — Sally purports to have invented a familiar flight attendant gesture — but the filmmakers never seem comfortable with playing the movie strictly as a comedy. It’s dressed up and cast like one, but any satire in the script feels soft-pedaled, as if someone thought Paltrow’s presence demanded more sentimental and crowd-pleasing material. This is ironic, as she has shown both a talent and a willingness for comedy on her Saturday Night Live appearances. But some of her feature roles (The Pallbearer, Duets) have veered dangerously close to Julia Roberts territory. Actually, in this case, she’s more like Reese Witherspoon: a talented young actress with strong timing stuck in a bland (sort of) comedy about (sort of) following your dreams.

Milieu-based movies like A View From the Top benefit from as much specificity as possible. As Donna becomes more successful, Top has less and less fun with the exploration of a flight attendant subculture. At first, Donna’s zeal for flight attending is amusing; later, it’s just a generic dream played straight, and the patness of the movie’s Choose Love rhetoric emerges. A View From the Top has hints of a likable little movie. But that may be the problem: It has become too little, after the evident Miramax chopping, to sustain such heavy contrivances and clichés. Both Paltrow and her vehicle end up grounded.