View From the Top (PG-13)
View From The Top has been marketed as a feel-good romp with tons of Mike Myers cross-eyed slapstick zaniness. But if you've seen the previews, you've also seen its best gags.
This Miramax comedy reaches a cruising altitude of modest mediocrity, not because of the performances of Gwyneth Paltrow and Mike Myers, but due to its sneering cruelty and uninspired direction. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Donna Jenson, a trailer park girl whose dream is to leave her Podunk town for something, anything, better than life with her trashy Mom and her trashy cast of husbands. Dumped by her boyfriend, she finds hope in Sallie Weston (Candice Bergen), an airline stewardess turned motivational guru.
Donna starts her stewardess career on a hole-in-the-wall airline that transports drunken gamblers between third-rate cities, but soon works her way to the tony Royalty Airlines. Director Bruno Baretto deems those who treat their service industry jobs seriously as worthy of ridicule, especially when they have big hair, excessive makeup and loud outfits.
This is not to say that the working class shouldn't be mocked, only that this film has little other comic recourse than sneering. What's worse is that it's coupled with a palpable nostalgia for a time when a woman's ambitions amounted to striving to be the lucky doll who pours champagne for the big boys in first class. At the same time, Baretto wants to have it both ways by mocking Paltrow for her fastidiousness and ambition and then reveling in her triumphs.
In order for a romantic comedy to work, the love story has to be so compelling that you can tolerate a funny famine, or you're soiling yourself so thoroughly that a contrived romance is an acceptable price to pay. Baretto shortchanges us on both ends.
The requisite love story is helped somewhat by the charming, though largely utilitarian Ted (Mark Ruffalo), a law student on vacation from reality in the West. He and Donna quickly fall in love when they are reunited in Cleveland. Meanwhile, Donna learns she has been stabbed in the back by her jealous friend Christine (Christina Applegate) and her first-class ambitions collide with the flight path of her heart. When Donna chooses her career -- via a New Yorkbased international route -- it's a bittersweet victory.
View From The Top suffers the fate of too many modern comedies in its substitution of character development with syrupy montages accompanied by pop-rock hits from the last two decades. This is filmmaking at its laziest; not only does it forgo the challenges posed by actual scenes, but it also rides on the nostalgic equity of tested hits from Journey, Cyndi Lauper and [insert pop star here].
Mike Myers is up to snuff as an apoplectic airline trainer, but he doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Also underutilized is the obligatory gay steward, Randy (Joshua Malina), whose lurid wit offers a welcome reprieve from Gwynny's tired love vs. career dilemma.
As for Paltrow herself, she does what she can with this script and it's hard to complain at being subjected to her exposed navel and short skirts. She half carries this uninspired film through her flippant but gracious charm and a sense that she's having a lot of fun. But View from the Top ends with a trite piece of political correctness revealing that it even lacks the courage to hold true to its reactionary instincts.
-- John Dicker