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We love a woman in uniform

by Kaori Shoji

View From the Top

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Director: Bruno Barreto
Running time: 87 minutes
Language: English
Currently showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

“View From the Top” should really be called “Airport! (Just Kidding)” or “Yikes at JFK” but after 9/11, jokes about flying — however innocuous — never make it past studio boardroom discussions.

This is precisely why “View From the Top,” which had initially been slated for an autumn release in 2001, was gathering dust on Miramax shelves for two years. Trimmed and re-edited (apparently there were some problematic scenes involving Middle Eastern passengers) the picture has finally reached theaters, but it’s hard to tell whether this revamping by director Bruno Barreto did a whole lot of good.

You know when the turbulence is so rough you’re compelled to giggle into your drink and trade hairy flying stories with your neighbor? This is what the viewing experience of “View From the Top” boils down to: so bad you gotta talk about it, but when you talk about it, it’s fun. You’re tempted, in fact, to sit down with a bag of saturated-fat potato chips and watch a whole slew of airplane movies that Hollywood once delighted in churning out with regularity.

The story is all about Donna (Gwyneth Paltrow), a small-town girl turned flight attendant who wants the best life has to offer and is always willing to work for it. She leaves her job at the cheap, sleazy Sierra Airlines where the company motto is “Big hair, short skirts and service with a smile” to work in first class at the prestigious Royalty Air (“We’ll treat you like royalty”). Why she decided upon a career as a stewardess is never discussed — like mountain climbers, she just wants to get to the top of the highest peak.

If “View From the Top” does any soaring it will most likely be in Japan, where an estimated 75 percent of the male population is reported to have a uniform fetish and a huge chunk of this demographic are avid worshippers of succhi (the pet name for flight attendants here). It should be noted that the uniforms in “View” are one of the best features of the movie — you don’t have to be a succhi connoisseur to get major kicks from Sierra Airlines’ lollipop-red mini dress (material: 100 percent latex) with purple trimming and a large, revealing hole cut over the chest.

Thing is, Donna and her two succhi friends, Christine (Christina Applegate) and Sherry (Kelly Preston), want nicer, classier uniforms. (“All natural fiber!”) They want to be able to serve silver bowls of warmed nuts to Euro-bound businessmen. And they want a New York City address, preferably on the Upper West Side. To this end, they apply for training at Royalty and meet up with such legends of the flying industry as flight-attendant instructor John Whitney (Mike Meyers) and former stewardess No. 1 Sally Weston (Candice Bergen). Despite these stellar presences, the series of events leading up to the Royalty training program are much more happening: We get to see Gwyneth and Kelly in poodle hairdos and layers of lip gloss, and all three girls lounging around on poolside deck chairs when they’re not transporting “drunks and gamblers” to and from Fresno. They could be Bond girls in a discount 007 movie where the money ran out for everything except ’70s outfits and the electricity needed for all those blow-dries.

Speaking of which, costume designer Mary Zophres obviously had a lot of fun with everyone’s looks, but they’re all over the map (’70s, ’80s Italian designer, and then, the timeless Gap look), accelerating the scatter-brained feel. The sloppiness hits peak levels when Kelly Preston (who was in top form, strutting a pseudo-Southern accent to go with her big red hair and pink bikini) is dumped without ceremony from the story for some bizarre reason known only to Hollywood screenwriters.

As soon as Royalty training begins, Donna turns patrician, which is to say, she turns into Gwyneth Paltrow. Gone are the K-Mart micro-minis and the outrageous do; she trades it all in for nicely streaked, long blonde tresses, designer coats and heels from Ferragamo. Under the tutelage of Sally, Donna gains her mantra (“Paris, first class, international”) and succeeds in outwitting her succhi enemies (namely the catty Christine, who turns out to be an airline’s worst nightmare). Donna even acquires a whole new vocabulary to match her poise and even a trace of a posh British accent.

Donna’s so upwardly mobile you begin to wonder why she just didn’t go ahead and train as an astronaut. But this being a Hollywood product, she winds up finding true love in sweet, family-oriented lawyer Ted (Mark Ruffalo) after realizing that even gorgeous succhi cannot live by flying alone. Yawn.

This said, “View” still yields laughs, including a memorable wrestling match between Donna and Christine on the floor of Royalty’s first-class cabin. As Christine straddles Donna and prepares to ram her face into the carpet, Donna grabs a loaf of bread (wisely, pain de campagne) and uses it as a cushion to protect her makeup: wham! After that, she gets up, cool and composed, smooths down her hair and greets the passengers filing in: “Welcome to Royalty Airlines!” Which goes to show the one distinct trait of flight attendants: They are great sports, both in the movies and in real life. Let’s not trouble them too much about warm nuts.