- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

"A View From the Top" merely flirts with the possibility of elevated and consistent romantic-comedy endearment.
The shortish running time is a clue to superficial and negligent tendencies in the screenplay attributed to Eric Wald. It also reflects skimped or haphazard execution by director Bruno Barreto, who is nevertheless a genial trifler, so sympathetic to the heroine and her colleagues that he avoids the sort of prurient facetiousness that made "The Sweetest Thing" so toxic a year ago.
He also has the services of Gwyneth Paltrow as a leading lady. Her image and sensibility bring enough innate refinement and emotional sincerity to this threadbare vehicle that admirers will not mind making a few allowances. She's cast somewhat differently than before, as a young woman named Donna Jensen who has been raised coarsely and craves something better. She identifies social improvement and professional esteem with a job as a flight attendant on international routes.
Escaping unstable trailer-park domesticity (her mother is dismissed in a couple of vignettes as a four-time marital loser) and a barren hometown in Nevada, Donna struggles toward respectability and sophistication in a period that roughly overlaps with the story in Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can." It also reinforces that film's nostalgic, glamorous impression of air travel while evoking the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Donna acquires entry-level experience with a twin-prop carrier called Sierra, which flies weekend gamblers between Laughlin, Nev., and central California. The top of the profession is represented by Royalty, which operates those coveted international flights and enjoys the endorsement of Donna's professional hero, a best-selling former flight attendant named Sally Weston, a jovial go-getter role for Candice Bergen, who has one particularly funny moment when she boasts of terrifying Dr. Phil during an appearance with Oprah.
It doesn't take too long to notice that the cast seems to outclass the material in "A View From the Top." Clearing the deck for a gem of a picture might have required an extended rehearsal period, in which outclassing the script became a conscious game plan, perhaps abetted by wittier writers.
Mike Myers, cast as a screwball named John Whitney who supervises attendant training at Royalty, seems to have improvised his own material, which gets a sometimes ill-advised free ride from Mr. Barreto.
The best single nutty feature invented for Whitney is a set of trick eyes that punctuate his lectures and bad jokes. The left eyeball remains rigid while the right slides toward his nose. Some of the better Whitney bits are reserved for a segment of outtakes during the end credits.
This contributes to your sense that the movie could have used more elaboration and better time management. Miss Paltrow and Christina Applegate, cast as the trainee and roommate who repays Donna's kindness with treachery, even have an impromptu dance number in the outtake epilogue. Who knows how many cute ideas never ripened in time to prop up the plot.
Donna's ambitions supposedly conflict with romance when she grows fond of a law student named Ted, played by Mark Ruffalo. He and Miss Paltrow are quite appealing together, but their courtship episodes are obviously shortchanged. The attraction begins in Nevada and resumes in Cleveland, Ted's hometown and Donna's base of operations with the domestic branch of Royalty. Both settings need at least two more scenes that would help validate a serious attachment. The actors possess the right rapport; they just need more time to convince us that a breakup would be unbearable.
Donna gets her shot at trans-Atlantic travel, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. The upgrade results in several serendipitous payoffs, starting with a happily timed sight gag in which Donna, nagged by a short Frenchman demanding more champagne, accidentally plunks him in the fevered brow with the cork in the bottle she's holding.
Costume designer Mary Zophres has helped glorify Miss Paltrow's radiant entrance in a bound-for-Paris uniform. Even better, while sightseeing in the city, the leading lady sports a little beret and carries a polka-dot umbrella, accessories so adorable that it would not be inappro-priate to blow kisses at the screen.
Gwyneth Paltrow remains something of an impostor while cast as a diamond in the rough. It's a little difficult not to detect elegant promise in Donna at first glance. Kelly Preston's Sherry, the Sierra veteran who befriends the heroine, and Miss Applegate's Christine look like genuine projects in upward mobility and delicacy. The movie is sometimes touching in ways that once were commonplace, when actresses such as Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck impersonated shopgirls or scroungers with finer aspirations.
For example, a somewhat overemphatic contrast of snobby flight attendants from a posh line with the Sierra trio, all customers at the same restaurant, is rescued by the sense of inadequacy the underdogs reveal, wordlessly, when observing their privileged rivals. It is painful to feel envious, especially when the people you envy aren't behaving all that splendidly. Wanting to look better and feel more confident isn't asking a lot. Donna's quest is another reminder that aspiration can pay off, though not without certain costs and setbacks.
TITLE: "A View From the Top"
RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity and sexual candor)
CREDITS: Directed by Bruno Barreto. Written by Eric Wald. Cinematography by Affonso Beato. Production design by Dan Davis. Costume design by Mary Zophres. Music by Theodore Shapiro
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

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