EJ Legaspi, our contributor from the Philippines, flies the not-so-friendly skies for the second time with his brand new re-view of “View from the Top.”
One lazy Sunday afternoon, as I as browsing through the DVD section, I spied what looked like a promising rom-com starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The movie promised a talented cast, an interesting fairy tale in the sky, and what seemed to be a late Eighties/early Nineties setting. I was sure I had a keeper, so I bought it, popped it in my PS2 and settled in for a nice evening with a movie that surely didn’t have to be taken too seriously.
By the time the credits rolled, I was less than elated. I don’t think I hated it that much because I didn’t bother to throw or give my copy away, but what exactly was about this movie that made me see it once only to let it gather ten years’ worth of dust on my shelf.
So if this movie had me giddy with much excitement on first viewing, this second time around had me a very cautious, after all I’ve been burned by it once. My friends chided me for overthinking this one. It’s a brainless movie. It’s meant to be fun. Can’t you just have fun with it?
That is precisely my problem. I really wanted to have fun with it. I really wanted to love it. But something about this movie really rubbed me the wrong way, and I just had to find out.
After seeing again, I finally understand why. View from the Top is so unevenly told, with poorly written characters, that it constantly jars your viewing experience that you never either feel for the characters or fully buy into the hokey premise.
First of is the main character, Donna Jensen, who also serves as the narrator for the film. As if “Don’t Stop Believing” playing over the opening wasn’t enough, Donna states it again for the audience, that she is just a small town girl with big dreams of getting out of her dreary life.
It’s a classic trope that I love but for some reason, it doesn’t work. First reason is Ms. Paltrow herself. While I loved her in films like Shakespeare in Love and Sliding Doors, I don’t buy her in this character. Maybe it’s because her character is so poorly written. She’s pretty, she works hard, and she has values, but she has no real motivation and no real character flaw. Now perfection, like maybe a Disney princess, can be acceptable, except that there’s nothing really interesting about her. Largely because, the audience is never allowed to think or feel for themselves.
The film chooses to tell the story three times over at many key instances. First they will play some Eighties/Nineties music. Great tracks, I might add and music that I would listen to, and coupled with the very obvious commentary on the action. This isn’t a very complicated film, so there really isn’t any subtext to enhance. However, the movie frequently adds a third layer of Donna’s inner monologue dictating to the audience how she feels. Thus, I felt, as an audience member, I could never be fully engaged in the film because it was always talking down me and telling me how to think or feel at every single plot point.
The plot itself does not help either. Her boyfriend dumps her, but since we never spend enough time with them, we don’t necessarily feel bad for her. When she gets inspired by Sally Weston (Candice Bergen), the world’s most famous flight attendant and motivational speaker, she successfully navigates her way from a budget airline to being a trainee for a big airliner, Royalty Airlines, all due to her enthusiasm and hard work.
However, the complication of the plot has her stuck in Royalty Express, the budget arm of Royalty Airlines. The good news is that she meets and falls in love with her acquaintance, Mark Ruffalo, and quickly settles into the love and comfort she had never known. And it’s from this that her primary conflict stems from, her inability to get her dream position of “Paris, First-class, International” and her inability to commit to her dreamboat in the person of Mark Ruffalo’s character. And the movie goes out of its way to disguise the fact that these two are both out of her reach and incompatible.
Her international career was usurped by the unscrupulous Christine Montgomery (Christina Applegate), who switches their final flight attendant exam and thus nabbing the more prestigious route for herself. Christine is the stock dumb slacker slut, who is one of her friends from her commuter airline days. They’re portrayed as best friends, but apart from being roommates and being co-workers, there really isn’t much to base the friendship on. A far more interesting friend, Sherry (Kelly Preston, who is very much wasted in this film), who wanted the job more than Christine, was ditched early in the film probably because she was too nice to do the deed. Never for once does the audience doubt that Christine would do such a deed, and thus I can’t help but feel that Donna deserved her misfortune if she was dumb enough to be friends with such an overtly terrible person.
Speaking of dumb, once she gets her dream, Donna seems to have gone out of her way to make her life ever harder by convincing herself that she can’t be with Mark Ruffalo once she has her job. Which is rather curious for me because doesn’t she work for an airline? I know being a flight attendant is hard work and that it is difficult for relationships to work when you’re constantly flying across the Atlantic, but shouldn’t she get free flights back to Cleveland, where her all-to-perfect, but dorky enough to be relatable, boyfriend lives?
Murphy Brown Saves the Day
Thankfully, any problem Donna seems to encounter is always resolved by Candice Bergen’s character, Sally Weston. She’s the fairy godmother of this story who grants Donna with the inspiration, and the means to achieve her dreams. She singles her out for greatness early in the film, recognizing her hunger – something I did not see in Paltrow’s eyes, and once things got rough, she moves her magic by weaving through Royalty Airlines bureaucracy much to the disdain of the frustrated, cross-eyed, head of training Mike Whitney (Mike Myers in a role I desperately wanted to love). Finally, when Donna was too dense to realize that she needed to have someone in your life, Sally Weston, jumps back into her uniform to free Donna from her shift to fly to her Mark Ruffalo, whose name still escapes me, oh wait, there, I googled it, Ted.
If it isn’t obvious yet, apart from being a workaholic, Donna doesn’t really do anything to achieve her dreams. She always relies on the goodwill of a powerful woman, like Cinderella. But unlike Cinderella who worked hard to be loved by her family, Donna was doing everything for herself. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it does question whether or not she deserved her happy ending. Yeah, well maybe she did, but I still call to question her intelligence or at the very least her common sense.
In the very last scene, the film shows us Donna’s compromise to make her relationship with Ted Ruffalo work. She becomes a pilot for Royalty Express. And this baffles me. Wouldn’t it have been more reasonable to have just settled for being a flight attendant again with Royalty Express? Never once did she indicate an inclination to become a pilot. Her only interaction with a pilot was early in the film with the flirty Rob Lowe co-pilot, who was in two scenes. The skills needed to become a pilot and being a flight attendant are very different, and I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other. Did Donna feel the need to prove herself by not settling for less than what she wanted? If that’s the case, then she’s a very conceited character and I don’t like her very much. And that final shot of her with a smug look towards the camera proves it.
I have to admit, I did get a couple of good lines from the film that I even forgot came from the film, namely the Sally Weston mantra “Paris, First-class, International” and a chuckle-worthy line from Mike Myers involving assessing a window. However, these all came from the late first and early second acts of the film, and I suspect many of those who watch this as their guilty pleasure enjoy these parts the most. That and Candice Bergen, who is at the top of her game and whose voice I just want to listen to over and over again. And maybe Christina Applegate, who is just so terrible in this film, but I love her anyway. And yeah, Mark Ruffalo, if you’re anything like my friends who are in love with him.
But definitely not Gwyneth Paltrow. And from what I hear, she seems to agree.