View From the Top: The Last & Only Hope of Glamorizing Flight Attendantry

Originally slated to be released in December of 2001, just in time to cause offense as a “comedic airplane movie,” View From the Top starring Gwyneth Paltrow was subsequently postponed in its movie theater debut until March of 2003 (incidentally, when George W. Bush would continue to make 9/11-related decisions by choosing to invade Iraq). When it finally surfaced, the critical and commercial release was, to put it mildly, marginal.

Promotional poster for View From the Top
Promotional poster for View From the Top
In spite of its lukewarm response, Bruno Barreto’s (perhaps unintentionally) camp film shows us, mere passengers, just how glamorous and meaningful being a flight attendant can be. Working a depressing job at Big Lots in Silver Springs, Nevada in order to be closer to her boyfriend, Tommy, the manager there, Donna Jensen (Paltrow) is heartbroken to find out that he’s leaving her for another co-worker after he breaks up with her in a birthday card (far worse than a Post-It). Distraught and uncertain of her path in life, Donna takes refuge in a bar where she sees famed flight attendant Sally Weston (Candice Bergen) on a talk show discussing her memoir, My Life in the Sky, and the way that traveling changed her life forever. This obviously inspires Donna to quit Big Lots and start working for a shitty airline that only flies to Reno, Bakersfield and Laughlin.
With her fellow "stewardesses"
With her fellow “stewardesses”
While serving her time at quite possibly the worst airline in the country, Donna befriends her fellow flight attendants, Sherry (Kelly Preston) and Christine (Christina Applegate), and encourages both of them to come with her to an open call interview for Royalty Airlines–the same company that launched Sally Weston’s career. Upon being grilled by the quirky, cross-eyed interviewer, John Whitney (Mike Meyers), who is given the distinct pleasure of uttering the only iconic lines of the movie–“You put the wrong em-phasis on the wrong sy-llable” and (while making abrupt movements) “Do you handle surprises well?”–Donna proves herself as a worthy candidate effortlessly with each response to the questions.
Meyers as John Whitney
Meyers as John Whitney
Sherry, however, is given the boot almost immediately, while Donna and Christine are advanced to the next level by going through an extensive training course that will then allow them to take a test to determine which Royalty Airlines route they will be assigned to. Donna’s goal is, of course, Paris, First Class International. Unfortunately, she is unaware that Christine is a backstabber of a friend (as already evidenced by her trying to move in on Donna’s love interest, Ted, played by Mark Ruffalo), and would never have imagined that she could be capable of switching their test packets in order to take credit for Donna’s flight attendant savvy. Thus, Christine is given the Paris, First Class International assignment, while Donna is relegated to being based out of Ohio.
Assigned a less than glamorous flight route
Assigned a less than glamorous flight route
Determined to re-take the test in a year (the soonest she is permitted to), Donna moves in with Ted, who is also pursuing his own dream of, um, going to dentistry school. Nonetheless, the two’s burgeoning romance seems to be enough to keep them distracted from the career paths they’ve otherwise been preoccupied with. But when Donna finds out Christine has been stealing from Royalty Airlines (alcohol, beauty products, etc.) after Christine comes by her apartment to catch up, Donna realizes that Christine has been dishonest all along, and brings this to the attention of her now close ally, Sally Weston. Christine is subsequently trailed by a secret observer and fired from Royalty after being caught red-handed, thus allowing Donna to finally fulfill her dream of Paris, First Class International.
Finally able to serve champagne
Finally able to serve champagne
Even though the sophistication and poise of being the type of flight attendant who works first class is everything she hoped it would be, Donna finds that she is experiencing an unexpected lack within her heart as a result of choosing her career over Ted. In the end, of course, she returns to him, taking a page from Sally Weston’s book, in which she asserts, “Every pilot needs a co-pilot.” Accordingly, Donna is shown as a pilot at the end of the film, signaling that the only thing more glamorous than a tailored flight attendant outfit is having total control over the airplane.