Go figure Bruno Barreto. In 1998 he made Four Days in September, an exceedingly smart film about the perils of youthful fascination with revolution. In 1996 he made Carried Away, an earnest feature adapted from the Jim Harrison novel bout a middle-age school teacher who abandons his long-time relationship with a woman his own age for an ill-advised fling with a schoolgirl.
Carried Away had honorable intentions, I think, but it became widely known for a scene of Barreto's wife, Amy Irving, featuring full-frontal nudity. And maybe it's that nude scene that really stamps it as Barreto's work. After all, it was he who directed Sonia Braga in such blistering sexual performances as Gabriella and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. Currently, Barreto is on display with View From the Top, a picture that, like Carried Away, suggests an underlying seriousness never entirely achieved.
Written by Eric Wald, View From the Top offers a fine cast that must be disappointed with the way the film has turned out. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as Donna Jensen, a small-town Nevada girl with a slut for a mother and a new father every week. Donna wants nothing more than to make something of herself so she can get the heck of Dodge, and she finally finds her calling in the airline stewardess industry. Yes, I know this sounds like a joke, but the picture wants us to take Donna's ambitions seriously. And even when we do, the film doesn't work.
Donna first finds flight attendant work with a puddle-jumper airline ferrying cowboys to Vegas and broke cowboys back home. After a shaky, if utterly unbelievable, start to her career, Donna settles down with Sierra Airlines to become a top flight attendant despite hair the height of Mount Everest and a wonder bra arranging cleavage from her knees up. In her early days of sky waitressing, Donna is mentored by Kelly Preston, who has either gotten breast implants meant for a Dolly Parton impersonator or else has decided to wear a bra padded with boxing gloves. Eventually, though, the flick can't figure out what to do with Preston's character, Sherry, and casts her aside like hour-old chewing gum.
Inspired by the memoirs of Hall of Fame flight attendant Sally Weston (Candice Bergen), Donna decides to make the jump from rust-bucket Sierra to gleaming-chrome Royalty Airlines, an organization that suggests the prestige of TWA at its zenith in the 1960s. Clinging to Donna's ever-so-short skirt hem is another young Sierra stewardess, Christine Montgomery (Christina Applegate). Christine isn't as natively gifted with oxygen masks and overhead luggage bins, but she's a downright whiz with those one-serving bottles of airline liquor. And what she lacks in gray matter and study habits, she easily makes up in ruthless treachery.
So pretty soon, Christine is slinging the caviar from New York to Paris while Donna is pouring Diet Pepsi and passing out pretzels on the express run from Cleveland to Peoria. Life just isn't fair. Unless you're Gwyneth Paltrow and have legs that reach up through your micro mini toward that flat tummy that makes most of us men types feel all frustrated about not being Ben Affleck at least some of our life.
No, if you're Gwyneth Paltrow, you may be stuck in Cleveland, but pretty soon you're living with dreamboat Ted Stewart (Mark Ruffalo) who just happens to love you with all his heart, not to mention his being first in his law class and therefore about to become meaningfully rich. And thereby hangs Act Three. Didn't Donna start off to become a successful career woman? And when she finally gets a shot at the first-class cabin on the New York-Paris run herself, shouldn't she follow her dream even if that means scuttling Mr. Dreamboat?
The amazing thing is that Barreto seems to want us to consider Donna's dilemma sincerely even as he provides a denouement that proves the whole issue bogus. In short, View From the Top is a structural mess. We get the typical broad comedy that produces wild screaming and pratfalls without producing a single laugh. As the majordomo at flight attendant school we get Mike Myers wearing a prosthetic crossed eye and doing all those little faces and gestures that make him the most annoying man in the movies. We get soupy romance that produces all the heat of Vichyssoise. And we get pseudo-feminist correctness about a career that probably deserves more respect than it gets but still hardly measures up to law, medicine and a whole bunch of other more intellectually demanding professional endeavors.
And here, there and everywhere we get a leering camera and a basketful of jiggle. Tight shirts. Short skirts. Bathing suits that would make even the editors of Sports Illustrated consult their censors. Bruno Barreto has done this kind of thing before. Why Gwyneth Paltrow is doing it, I absolutely cannot imagine.