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Dustin Putman

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View From the Top (2003)
1 Stars

Directed by Bruno Barreto
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, Christina Applegate, Candice Bergen, Mike Myers, Kelly Preston, Joshua Malina, Rob Lowe, Stacey Dash, Marc Blucas, Jon Polito, George Kennedy
2003 – 87 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language and sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 22, 2003.

Wading through the 87-minute curiosity that is "View From the Top," only one question is bound to plague the viewer: What in the world is Gwyneth Paltrow (2002's "Possession"), Oscar winner for 1998's "Shakespeare in Love," doing slumming her way through this big-screen comedic bust? Rumor has it that she was paid $10-million by Miramax to star, which is a valid enough explanation, but how was the lame, sitcom-level screenplay by Eric Wald even greenlit in the first place? Every aspect of "View From the Top" hints—no, make that screams—of desperation, right down to the wall-to-wall, cover-heavy '80s soundtrack that doesn't even feature the original recordings.

Ever since Donna Jensen (Gwyneth Paltrow) was a young child, she has vowed to break out of her unhappy trailer-park existence in Silver Springs, Nevada, and make something of herself. After getting dumped by her no-good boyfriend (Marc Blucas) in a birthday card, fate falls on Donna's lap when she catches an interview with Sally Weston (Candice Bergen), acclaimed as the world's most successful flight attendant, and is inspired to follow in her footsteps. Despite never having stepped on an airplane before, Donna studies hard and soon works her way up to the prestigious Royalty Airlines, trained by the cross-eyed John Whitney (Mike Myers). With attractive trips to Paris and New York at her fingertips, Donna must now decide what will make her happier: a profession she has dreamed of having, or a continuing relationship with wonderful, kind law student Ted (Mark Ruffalo).

Miramax Films, which notoriously makes either Oscar bait pictures or really bad ones (there is rarely anything in between), have delayed "View From the Top" for over a year, claiming the events of 9/11 as the reason for its postponement. Don't believe them. The real reason becomes clear as crystal within the first half-hour. Poorly written characters clumsily show up and disappear before any connection can be made with them. The dim-witted story, which wouldn't have passed muster in a 1960s movie, trudges along lugubriously, with its only sporadic humor coming from the involvement of a few naturally funny actors. No sense of time period is apparent, either, as the costumes are from the '60s, the music is from the '80s, and everything else seems to be modern.

It is a testament to Gwyneth Paltrow's always bright talents that she can make even her performance here plausible and not too embarrassing. It's the film she is stuck in that should make her want to erase this project from her résumé. As the loony, cross-eyed John Whitney, Mike Myers (2002's "Austin Powers in Goldmember") garners most of the laughs to be found in an otherwise barren wasteland of material. As Donna's mentor, Sally Weston, it is a nice change of pace to see Candice Bergen in a likable part after her one-dimensional villainess roles in 2000's "Miss Congeniality" and 2002's "Sweet Home Alabama;" too bad her sensitive turn isn't at the service of a film more worthwhile. Finally, as two of Donna's friends and co-workers, Christina Applegate is Christine, an inferior bad-girl version of her character in 2002's "The Sweetest Thing," and Kelly Preston (1999's "For Love of the Game") is Sherry, who jarringly exits the picture after the first thirty minutes to never be seen or heard from again.

The predictable and unconvincing dilemma Donna is faced with—whether to choose a lonely life doing something she enjoys, or sacrifice some of her professional dreams to be with her loving boyfriend, Ted—is made inconsequential by the complete lack of charisma between Paltrow and Mark Ruffalo (2001's "The Last Castle"). It doesn't help that Ted is only marginally developed as a person, and the romance is a thoroughly bland and forgettable one.

The film's funniest moment comes near the beginning, as inexperienced flier Donna freaks out upon takeoff and screams amid the passengers, "we're gonna crash!" Because of the current climate we live in, this decidedly un-PC joke is sharp and courageous in a way that the rest of the lazy humor isn't. "View From the Top" is, indeed, a turbulent mess of a movie.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman