View From the Top
Directed by Bruno Barreto
Written by Eric Wald
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow


View From the Top

To borrow an aphorism, you could say that some films are born great, some films have greatness thrust upon them, and some - like "View From the Top" - should never have been born, much less permitted to open in a movie theatre. This comedy, written by a painfully untalented student at UCLA named Eric Wald, has no wit, no believable people, no pace, no sense of character, and not even the faintest whiff of originality. It's amazing that it ever made it to the shooting stage. Miramax's Harvey Weinstein must really have had it in for his erstwhile favorite Gwyneth Paltrow when he put her into this one.

When I'm confronted with a disaster like "View From the Top" I fall back on what I call the elapsed-time test; that is, how many minutes into the movie are we before I look at my watch. In the case of a Fassbinder, an Almodovar or a Kurosawa, for example, it might be days before I think to check the time. In the case of "View From the Top," however, I was mesmerized by the progress of the second hand from about minute number eleven.

The film is the story of Donna Jensen (Paltrow), daughter of a much-married Nevada showgirl, who sees airline stewardess guru Sally Weston (Candice Bergen) on an Oprah-like show flogging her book about how she reached her dream through her career choice. So Donna believes she can reach that same dream as well. (Notice that the phrase 'flight attendant' is not even used in the script, though the film is set in the present.)

With two girlfriends she becomes a stewardess on a cheesy airline that flies old planes from Laughlin to Fresno, wearing a micromini and a pushup bra. She meets the solid Ted (Mark Ruffalo), taking time off from law school to work as a patrolman on Lake Havasu. But Donna wants it all, goes to stewardess school for Royalty Airlines, whose trainer is the sadly unfunny Mike Myers, and where her friend Christine (Christina Applegate) double-crosses her by substituting Donna's final test for her own and getting chosen for the international runs, while poor Donna has to work Royalty Express on the Cleveland run - where, by the most painful coincidence, Ted lives. Am I getting too far ahead of you? But wait. Donna does get her international trips, finds herself alone in Paris on Christmas Eve, and realizes - I hope I'm not giving too much away - that life with Ted is really what she wants. The end, after just 82 minutes.

But then an odd thing happens. As the film runs outtakes under the end credits, we see a scene that did not make it into the film; it's a song and dance sequence with all the stewardesses dancing in the aisle of a plane to "We Are Family," and we realize that at some point in its development this film was intended to have music and dance - to be a very different movie from the one we saw. I don't know if it would have been better that way, but surely it could not have been worse.