View from the Top

Apr 2, 2003 at 12:00 am

View from the Top is a failed modern romantic-comedy version of those American-dream Horatio Alger stories of going from rags to riches by pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Donna — sweet, simple and wholesome as homemade apple pie — is never raggedy, though. She just looks cheap. But that’s not her fault. If she displays herself like a ‘70s hooker, blame it on growing up with an ex-Las Vegas showgirl for a mother. The soundtrack dredges up “Don’t Stop Believin’,” a Journey power ballad from the ‘80s, as her mouthpiece: “She’s just a small-town girl / livin’ in lonely world.”

At a low point in her life (a low like others to come that even the airy fluff of this flick bares too easily), Donna chances across air hostess-turned-inspirational speaker Sally Weston (Candice Bergen) on TV plugging her new book, My Life in the Sky . Donna sets her sights high: She determines to take to the sky as a flight attendant.

She lands a job at Sierra Airlines, a sleazy little prop-plane commuter service whose motto is “big hair, short skirts and service with a smile.” Heck, she was practically bred for the job. (And it offers director Bruno Barreto one of this movie’s many opportunities to view Paltrow and the girls from top to bottom.)

Donna soon pulls herself up by her own bra straps, out of Sierra’s skimpy polyester costumes and into the more classically cut (though still skintight), natural fibers of Royalty Airlines’ uniforms. But flying away with Royalty means leaving her new love, Ted (Mark Ruffalo), behind. What will Donna’s choice be: her dream of high-flying success or love? Despite Paltrow’s sympathetic and luscious Donna, View from the Top’s romance is on autopilot — so who cares?

Mike Myers seems to have lost his comic mojo as Royalty’s flight attendant trainer John Whitney. But Donna’s low-class girlfriends are the literal butts of many a joke. Most of the attempts at irony collapse and the gags fall below laugh radar.

But the insidious classism and snobbery that belie the American dream aren’t hard to detect in View from the Top. They survive right in the title.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].