Monday, June 22, 2009

View from the Top (2003)

Directed by Bruno Barreto
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Mike Meyers, Christina Applegate, Kelly Preston, Candice Bergen
Rated PG-13
USA

"You're breaking up with me in a birthday card? Why?"
"Because they don't make breaking-up cards."

View From the Top is probably the most Roger Corman-esque film of the past decade. In fact, with just a very slight change in uniform, it could easily fit in with his Nursesploitation cycle of the early 70's, as the elements are all there: a group of strong-willed women involved in a career that requires them to wear sexy uniforms, navigating through love, life, and friendship with steely determination. There's laughs and adventure and cleavage, and perhaps a modicum of a message in there, as well. Pure 70's drive-in fluff, really. So it's surprising to me that View was never embraced, or even considered, by cult-film fans. This probably has something to do with its cast. A-list actors don't usually make B-movies, unless their careers have hit the skids, so it is pretty surprising to see Gwyneth Paltrow - a frou-frou actor usually involved some British-accented bullshit - top-lining this one. Mike Meyers is generally pretty selective about the films he's in as well, preferring characters of his own creation, ala Austin Powers, Wayne Campbell, and whatever that Guru bullshit from a couple years back was. And, you know, Candice Bergen doesn't exactly signify trashy B-movie fun. But forget all that, because under the gloss, that's exactly what this film is, a gleeful throwback to the simple delights of girls in tight outfits and the crazy jams they get into.

By the way, if you're a sleaze-beast like yours cruelly, than you probably haven't seen a whole lot of Gwyneth Paltrow before. Besides this one, Iron Man, and Duets (where she played Huey Lewis's half-retarded daughter, sang like an angel, and wore purple leather pants), I haven't seen a whole lot of her, but I can tell you this: she possesses a strong amount of girl-magic. She's like that one girlfriend you had 20 years ago that you still think about once a week. She leaves an afterglow that you can bask in for days. No wonder she's a zillionaire. Also, on more practical terms, she has an amazing ass. I mean, I'm still not gonna sit through Shakespeare in Love to ogle it, but still, it's pretty awesome.

Donna Jensen (Paltrow) is from a white-trash family in a Podunk Nevada town. From a young age, she dreams about getting out and seeing the world. After her boyfriend dumps her - via birthday card - she heads over to a bar to drown her sorrows and sees Sally Weston (Candice Bergen), "The world's most famous flight attendant" on a TV talk show, peddling her self-help book. Donna reads it and is inspired to land a job as a stewardess, even though she's never been on a plane before. She gets a job at Sierra Airlines, a small, shabby local company where the stews are required to puff up their hair and wear skin-tight mini-dresses.

Sherry (a seriously bosomy Kelly Preston), the senior stewardess, takes her under her wing and she helps her through her disastrous training period, as does affable co-pilot Steve (Rob Lowe). Eventually Donna gets over her fear of flying and becomes a confident stewardess herself. She even trains a new stew, high-school dropout Christine (Christina Applegate, doing a thirty-something Kelly Bundy).

Donna, Sherry, and Christine all become friends, and on the weekends, they stay with Sherry, who's negligent boyfriend has a beach house.

While sunbathing one afternoon, Donna's bikini top breaks, and while searching for a clasp in the boat house, she runs into coast guard officer Ted (Mark Ruffalo). They are instantly attracted to each other, and he takes her for a ride on his boat. Clearly missing the signals, Christine tags along and clumsily attempts to seduce Ted.

Later on, while having breakfast one morning at a diner, the three girls run into a trio of well-coiffed stewardesses from a major airline, who are appalled to be stuck in our heroines' tiny town for even the short time it takes to refuel. Their casual dismissal of the local girls sets off a spark in Donna, and she convinces the other girls that they should all apply for jobs at Royalty, a prestigious international airline.

The girls dress in their best denim miniskirts and attend the Royalty job fair, where they are interviewed by John Witney (Mike Meyers), a loony super-stew trainer with a lazy eye.

Christine and Donna both get invited the Royalty Learning Center in Texas. Sherry and her giant boobs, sadly, do not make the grade, and so she is left back in Nevada, as is our man Ted. That fuckin' Cindi Lauper song plays while they say their goodbyes.

On her first night at Stewardess School, Donna is thrilled to find out that she'll be attending a new-recruits dinner with none other than her mentor, Sally Weston, at her gaudy and cavernous mansion. Sally regales the girls with stories about stewing in the 70's. Her eager young charges eat it up, asking pertinent questions along the way.
"I heard all European guys are uncircumcised," Christine says. "Is that true?"
"How do you get on international flights?" Asks Donna.
"You need seniority," Sally answers.
"Oh. Should I apply now?"
Etc.

Later on, Sally pulls Donna aside and takes her to her room, where she shows her some of her old uniforms and tells her that if she works hard enough, she can make it to the very apex of stewardessing: Paris, First Class, International.
"It's your destiny," Sally tells her.

But first, there's Stewardess School to get through. This gives Mike Myers ample opportunity to riff ("Yes, I have held a polar bear's balls, and they're quite toasty"), and for the girls (including new recruit Stacey Dash) to jiggle as they jog around the mock-plane in tight t-shirts, attending to invisible disgruntled passengers.

Eventually, the girls take their final exams. Christine gets a sweet gig in New York, but Donna somehow ends up on the "Royalty Express" - i.e. local commuter flights - list. She complains to Witney, reminding him that she was at that the top of her class.
"This is bullshit!" She protests.
"I'll tell you what's bullshit," says the lazy-eyed Witney. "Eye exams."

Donna takes her lower-class gig in Cleveland. Life gets infinitely better when Ted suddenly shows up. He decided to go back to law school and for some reason chose Cleveland to do it, so at least they have each other. Still, Donna is not convinced that things went the way they should have in stewardess school. She starts to harbor suspicions that her test results were somehow tampered with.

One day, Christine ends up stuck in Cleveland for the night, so she gets together with Donna. They reminisce about old times and Christine talks about a recent spat she had with a customer. She said she did what she thought Donna would do - toss the fucker off the plane. Donna is perplexed. Not only is that not what she'd do, that very question was the last item on the final exam, the one that Donna supposedly did so badly on, and the normally numb-nutted Christine aced.

Donna visits Sally Weston and begs her to take another look at the tests. When she does, Donna finds out that Christine switched them while she was passing them in, and took credit for Donna's good grades. That treacherous shrew! Donna gets to take the test over again, and naturally, she aces it. And then she walks out of there wearing an awesome pair of tight white jeans. It's almost worth the price of admission right there.

Convinced she's finally fulfilling her destiny, Donna gives ol' Ted the kiss-off, despite the fact that they were inching ever closer to marriage. She takes the job on the international flight, and on her first day, Christine - who has just gotten fired for stealing tiny vodka bottles, to say nothing of the test cheat thing - shows up to say goodbye and maybe punch Donna in the face. They have a pretty sweet girl-fight, and then Christine is carted off by security to jail or the loony bin or wherever.



Donna finally makes it to Paris. She wanders around the city wearing a beret. Buy she misses Ted, and these French passengers are nothin' but problems. Has she made the right choice? Is this what she really wants? Will love win out over ambition?

No. It actually ends in a fiery runway crash and everybody dies.

Just kidding. It actually ends with Gwyneth and Christina disco-dancing in cut-off jeans.

Listen, Kelly Preston looks like she just stepped off the dusty set of a mid-70's Russ Meyer flick, Applegate is a in a bikini more often then not, and it's impossible to peel your eyes off of Paltrow. The script is funny and crisp, and moves along nicely. My only gripe is that Stacey Dash gets no lines. I think they just decided at the last minute that they needed a black chick in there somewhere. At least she offsets Paltrow's clunky moves in the end-credits dance-off.



Director Barreto is a bit of a mystery to me. All I know is that he's dated Amy Irving for 20 years, and that he prefers shooting in Brazil. How he ended up doing this film is anybody's guess, but I'm glad he did. I would easily place in the upper echelon of Stewardess movies, somewhere between Stewardess School and umm, The Stewardesses, at least. Definitely recommended.

View from the Top is available on DVD.




- Ken McIntyre

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