In View From the Top, Gwyneth Paltrow wears her silky blond hair swept straight up and back, as if she were trying to be the Nancy Sinatra of the friendly skies. She also trots around in a lot of clingy, colorfully gaudy outfits that show off her willowy hot bod -- and also her gosh-am-I-really-that-sexy? attitude -- to spectacular effect. ''View From the Top'' is a romantic comedy with all the confectionary value of one of those watery diet shakes; it practically evaporates while you're watching it. Taken strictly as a Gwyneth Paltrow fashion show, however, the movie has much to recommend it.
At first, her character, Donna Jensen, an aspiring flight attendant from small-town Nevada, lands a job working for Sierra Airlines, a grungy local outfit whose planes have shag carpeting on the walls. Donna, along with her fellow sky hostesses, parades on board in a purple-and-red microdress made of skintight acetate, all the better to accentuate her thrusting bosom. Back on the ground, she appears in such getups as a lime green miniskirt and accompanying tie-dye-style stretch top, as well as one pink number that gives her the appearance of a frosted vanilla cupcake. By the end of the movie, when Donna graduates to a cushier altitude, scoring a spot with the posh Royalty Airlines, she has thrown over her trashy ways to inhabit a look that is pure transworld chic: hair in a bun, sleek blue skirt and flight cap, calves sculpted by smart heels. In short, the Full Audrey.
In case you were wondering, the year is not 1965. ''View From the Top'' takes place -- or pretends to -- in contemporary America, yet it's stuck in a faux nostalgia for upwardly mobile second-class citizenship for women. The pivotal moment occurs when Donna gets invited to dinner at the home of her role model, Sally Weston (Candice Bergen), a legendary former stewardess (you heard me) who has written a best-selling memoir titled ''My Life in the Sky.'' Sally, who's like a cross between Tony Robbins and the Happy Hooker, preaches to Donna about the majesty of being a flight attendant. ''We're royalty!'' she says, ushering her new protégé into the ultimate signifier of regal living: her sky blue walk-in clothes closet. Standing in that pastel sanctuary, Donna feels, for the first time, the power of her job, the call of a destiny that can be summed up in four dreamy, if redundant, words: ''Paris, first class, international.''
''View From the Top'' is a movie that invites guys to drool over Gwyneth and girls to debate whether she looks better with her skirts cut to mid-thigh or to within an inch of her butt. What perhaps the members of every sex and age group can agree on is that the movie is a piece of spring piffle that makes your average Nora Ephron cookie-cutter romance look like ''It Happened One Night.'' The director, Bruno Barreto, appears to be trying for a cheeky, knowing version of a sky romp with a '60s feel. He gets the color scheme right -- at the Royalty Airlines flight-attendant school, everyone wears uniforms of Play-Doh blue -- but except for a couple of Candice Bergen's snappy line readings, the jokes are mostly of the Donna-hitting-a-cork-off-a-passenger's-head variety; they're all pop and no fizz. In training, Donna learns how to recite the oxygen-mask speech, and she endures the testiness of the head trainer, played by Mike Myers, who simmers beneath a snapshot smile and flashes one severely crossed eye, a gag that wears out its welcome before the first blink.
Even as you ask yourself what Gwyneth Paltrow is doing in a movie as mildly embarrassing as this one, her grin, with its girlish delight, radiates a pure ingenuous dazzle that perks the audience right up. She has a star's ability to give pleasure by inviting you directly inside the pleasure she takes in herself. ''View From the Top'' isn't a comedy of high-flying madness -- or, for that matter, an inside satire of the little things that flight attendants have to endure. It's a love story in which Donna meets Ted (Mark Ruffalo), an aspiring lawyer as cuddly as a teddy bear, and is forced to decide what's more important: life with him in Cleveland or the sky route to Paris. Does she want true love, or does she want the glamorous perk of free trips to the City of Light?
''Why can't all choices be simple?'' asks Donna in voice-over. ''Why can't they all be window or aisle?'' If that la-di-da version of a ''Sex and the City'' commentary metaphor makes you cringe, that's because ''View From the Top,'' in its patronizing way, sets up a choice for Donna that is breathtakingly simple -- or, at the very least, would be if the film weren't mired in retro continental fluffheadedness. The movie is so stuck for conflict that it trumps up a rivalry between Donna and her stewardess comrade (Christina Applegate), a petty thief who ends up betraying her. Their climactic catfight, in which Applegate shoves Paltrow's face into a giant bread roll, is, to put it kindly, a scene that Audrey Hepburn never would have played. Yet the petty degradation of the moment feels like the movie's real attitude coming out in spite of itself. There's nothing disrespectable about being a flight attendant. There is, however, something patently cloying and insincere about the way ''View From the Top'' portrays flying over the glass ceiling as if that were the same thing as breaking through it.