Classy Film: View from the Top (2003), Gwyneth Paltrow’s Cliché Fest
We’ve all had to do jobs we’d rather forget about. For some people, they end up on Netflix rather than in a HR filing cabinet.
I first heard about View from the Top on Lainey Gossip, the one gossip blog I read every day. Lainey name checked it when Thanks For Sharing, a film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Mark Ruffalo, was released. It marked a 10-year reunion for the actors, who held the lead roles in View from the Top.
If you’re a Lainey Gossip regular, you’ll know that to her readers, Paltrow is G and something of an obsession. Before the conscious uncoupling, before GOOP and the cookbooks, before Paltrow decided to be a lifestyle brand, there was what Wikipedia calls 2002-2007: Career Slowdown. After her Shakespeare in Love Oscar and her wedding to Chris Martin, Paltrow starred in few films until the Iron Man franchise came knocking.
Released in 2003, View from the Top is a movie Paltrow described to The Guardian as “this terrible movie that Harvey Weinstein talked me into doing”.
And terrible it is. The scenario, which revolves around the Hollywood cliché of a white trash girl from a small town with big aspirations, is telegraphed through flight metaphors and philosophical sentences such as: “It’s not my destiny. I want my destiny”; “I’m a pilot, it’s my job to know where people are going” and “For me the waiting room was my life until I met you”.
Paltrow plays Donna Jensen, the girl with big aspirations. After her quarterback boyfriend breaks up with her on her birthday, she decides to leave a promising career in the luggage aisle of her local department store for a job as a flight attendant on a commuters’ plane. Her boss warns her that customers will be gamblers and drunkards, her uniform is something out of a fetishist Star Wars shop, only with less taste and more polyester, but she sees it as a step up.
Which, since this is a feel good movie, it is. Her first job opens the doors to Royalty Airlines, the best American airline. In the process, she meets another cliché: Mark Ruffalo as the twenty-something who decides to drop his law studies because he’s afraid his whole life has been decided for him.
This entire review could be counting the film’s clichés. There might even be a drinking game there. Paris is presented as the City of Light in a first degree, one-dimensional way, through quick views of the lit Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysées. Jensen even wears a beret as La Vie en Rose plays! As a French person, I hate the way Hollywood keeps selling Paris, although I do understand it contributes to the capital’s tourist standing.
Even Jensen’s dream flight attendant job is handled through cinematographic platitudes. The camera follows her as she puts on her uniform, zooming on her zipping up her jacket or buckling her shoes. She is only seen in full through an escalator motive, an airport twist on the classic makeover reveal on the stairs.
During her training, Jensen gains a mentor in Sally Weston (Candice Bergen), the most famous flight attendant of her time. Weston has made a living selling ideas to young girls, mainly the notion that being a flight attendant means glamorous travel to faraway locations. She has become wealthy through her marriage with a man she attended to while working in business class, a flying myth as old as John marrying his prostitute.
Considering all these shortcomings, seeking a feminist message in View from the Top was farfetched. When Weston shows Jensen her walk-in closet, telling her she recognises her own ambition in her, she announces that the closet and riches of her life is all she’d ever wanted. Like in Pretty Woman, bagging a rich man is all one should aspire to. By the end of the film Jensen has conformed herself to this. It’s a pity the message is wrong, because I like the idea of Hollywood showing young women the importance of mentoring.
What I like less is Hollywood showing young women that women are bitches to each other. Jensen’s best friend ends up backstabbing her because of jealousy. Their last scene together is a ridiculous, half-hearted catfight. “You were always jealous of me for being prettier”. This is definitely not a character movie.
Rob Lowe features as a pilot. When I first saw him on screen, I thought his character and Jensen were going to end up together. So there was at least one surprise in the film. The other one was the presence of fellow West Wing regular Joshua Malina, in the cliché role of a gay man becoming a flight attendant. It’s miles away from the astute political roles he’s since played in first class Washington dramas.
Despite the acting talent gathered on screen, nobody plays well. I can understand an actor doing a movie because s/he needs to, for financial, for contract or for networking reasons. But once your name is on the poster, once you ask people to buy a ticket (and View from the Top grossed $19,526,014 worldwide), the least you can do is deliver. With a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, View from the Top is Paltrow’s last-but-one worst rated movie and the third-to-last worst rated for Ruffalo.
Here’s one thing not to emulate Gwyneth Paltrow on: even if you think the job is beneath you, do it well. Like Donna Jensen, who knows where it might take you?