At last, the definitive book about perhaps the best cabin crew dramedy ever filmed: View From the Top starring Gwyneth Paltrow.
In Ayoade on Top, Richard Ayoade, perhaps one of the most ‘insubstantial’ people of our age, takes us on a journey from Peckham to Paris by way of Nevada and other places we don’t care about. It’s a journey deep within, in a way that’s respectful and non-invasive; a journey for which we will all pay a heavy price, even if you’ve waited for the smaller paperback edition.
Ayoade argues for the canonisation of this brutal masterpiece, a film that celebrates capitalism in all its victimless glory; one we might imagine Donald Trump himself half-watching on his private jet’s gold-plated flat screen while his other puffy eye scans the cabin for fresh, young prey."
Richard Ellef Ayoade is a British comedian, film director, screenwriter, television presenter, actor, and author best known for his role as the socially awkward IT technician Maurice Moss in Channel 4 sitcom The IT Crowd, for which he won the 2014 BAFTA for Best Male Comedy Performance.
OK, look, humour is subjective. You may think an entire book analysing a forgotten Gwyneth Paltrow/Mark Ruffalo vehicle about air stewardesses sounds pretty thin stuff. Whatever. I can only say that I have not laughed so much reading a book in some time. I laughed so much, my family made me sit in another room because I was annoying them with my howling. I actually cried laughing.
Very clever in its profound stupidity, a masterclass in irony, and just really really funny. You do not have to have seen the film under discussion and honestly, having read this book, it sounds like we'd all be better off not. An unclassifiable glory.
I deludedly thought I was buying this book for my partner. After seeing Richard Ayoade on Graham Norton and giggling hysterically, I learned he had written a book about maybe the worst film ever made, starring the inimitable hawker of vaginal eggs (see below) and ridiculous smelling candles: Gwyneth Paltrow. As my partner, has an advanced degree in film making, among others, i thought - Perfect Gift!
But the humor is simply too British for someone who hasn’t had the delight of living there, and so he didn’t find calling Gwyneth “one pickle short of a ploughman’s” funny at all. Much less mucking through the British slang; gurn, guff, frig, bonce - most Americans probably couldn’t tell you the difference between a shag and a snog. Indeed a wise person once said “The UK and the USA are two countries separated by a common language.”
So i read it. And I will have to keep it, if just for the Index. Few books have indices that, standing alone, are mightily risible: “...bathroom, animal-print-lined, 119 baton, suavely swirling Thousand Island dressing with a carrot, 29” bearhug, unsolicited, 28…”
But, first, the book: “Here was a protest against the narrative of victimhood that has come to pervade today’s Complaint Culture. If you want to succeed, the film bravely asserts, put on a short skirt and go into the service industry!”
With flawless comic rhythm Ayoade deconstructs: “...here, the film seems to ask whether ‘going places’ is the same as ‘going to a place’. The first is a perpetual cycle. Sisyphus is going places, it’s just that the route is quite up and down.”
After a particularly non-subtle scene: “Sometimes the rapier is more effective than the blunderbuss.”
Or a simple, perfectly-turned, description: “Sally is wearing capri pants, whose softly iridescent gun-metal hue speaks of an elegance beyond those common folk who scrap it out in the scrum of the quotidian.”
On the origin of stewardesses (ellipses his): “The idea was audacious. Women...looking after people...and getting paid for it!”
And on Paltrow’s vag-egg-mongering: “Vaginal eggs are the result of taking the name of a body part and placing it next to the name of a breakfast item. Vaginal eggs are no more real to me than penis toast or anal pancakes. As my mother would always say to me, nothing that can hatch belongs in your vagina.”
From the Index: pancakes, anal, 39
There was actually a lawsuit (which the vag-egg-wallah lost) because of the false claims made about these - proof that fools are indeed born continuously.
Not at all related to the above: “I’m not saying we don’t need lawyers. But that’s only because I’ve been legally advised not to make that statement.”
I would love to read more Ayoade, but the international postal service here is on indefinite hiatus. So I’ll end with this delightful silliness:
“An era has passed, as all eras must. What is left to say, except the answer to the question, ‘What do you call Gloria Estefan vomiting in a taxi?’ Sic transit gloria.”
If anyone was up to the task of writing a definitive analysis of the 2003 Gwyneth Paltrow cabin crew dramedy film 'View From The Top' I am mildly confused as to why Richard Ayoade thought it could be him. 👓
Luckily for us he took the gamble, forged ahead and wrote this gem which is written in his inimitable voice and made me laugh...a lot. 🥰
If you love Richard Ayoade I think you'll love this book too. But then you'll want to watch the movie and that's where it could go wrong... 🎬
(It has been brought to my attention that this review is rather popular. Thanks people who have liked it! Do give me a follow if you'd like to read more x)
Ayoade on Top is a hilariously strange book. Richard Ayoade's critical analysis of 'View from the Top' (a 2003 romcom starring Gwyneth Paltrow) is a delight to read. Throughout the course of this short book Ayoade argues that this long-forgotten film is a modern masterpiece. I found Ayoade's dry wit and his clever observations regarding the film's many 'subtexts' and his asides on Paltrow's career to be 'on point'. Ayoade's humour may not be for everyone but I found Ayoade on Top to be a thoroughly diverting book. You can watch him talk of this book here. I would definitely recommend this to those who like in-depth takedowns of bad movies. Adroit, satirical, and whimsical, Ayoade on Top is a really entertaining read.
“Cinema helps us to remember that although we all have the right to shine, some of us must shine in the background, out of focus, and not too brightly.”
✈️I have loved all of Richard Ayoade's books, but this, his third, is by far my favourite. It's the critical analysis I wouldn't have considered necessary, but it was thrilling to listen to it! I'll link the clip that sold me on the book at the end of the review.
I suppose this is a fitting to point to mention that I have seen A View From The Top at least twice, though I have a suspicion it could be three times. The first time I watched it because it was on. The second time I rewatched because I vaguely remembered it was about a woman who wanted to be flight attendant, so becomes one. She dates Mark Ruffalo. I figured I had forgotten the more nuanced aspects of it-- I hadn't. I remembered it all because there isn't much to remember. I have no reasons to provide for the third viewing. What's interesting about the movie is it isn't exactly bad, it's just not remotely good either. Sometimes a movie is so bad that it becomes oddly brilliant. Not so here. It's OK. The actors are OK. No one feels deeply committed, but in fairness there isn't a lot to commit to. The most memorable characters are the ones that don't stick around for long -- Rob Lowe's pilot and Kelly Preston's flight attendant.
Amazingly, Richard Ayoade managed to write a book about this film. A good book. I still impressed by this. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop has a book club --- they have to select this at some point, right?!
“We applaud both her dogged grit and the film’s message: that there are some people who, despite shutting everyone out of their lives in order to achieve their goals, can repair the untold damage they’ve wreaked by making a small admission of culpability late in Act III, followed by a declaration of love.” ******* “It’s like a dream from which you wake, only to realise you were dreaming that you were dreaming. Which is why the choice of ‘Time After Time’ is so perfect. It gently speaks, and often squawks, of the cyclical nature of all narrative. When you hear the song, you feel you’ve heard it before, and you have. Because the story’s an old one: a lover leaves, leaving nothing behind but generalities.” ******* “The height of your hair illustrates the emotional bandwidth in which you may operate, which is why Chris Walken can emphasise the syllable which he deems appropriate rather than the one that might convey meaning.” ******* “Donna can’t believe that one person could own all of these clothes. My thoughts turn, as I’m sure do yours, to moth management. Sometimes people ask me what I do, and the correct answer is ‘almost nothing’, but if pressed, I might say that I’m a writer.”
Is this TripAdvisor? No? Well, never mind. What a journey! I saw sights I thought I would never see. Interpretations I thought I would never understand. I went to places I never knew existed, let alone were on a map. All this and I was encourage to relax in slacks, and reassured that my corduroy-clad frame was in the company of a wise, wise captain of literature.
I love Richard Ayoade and his sense of humor. So when I heard that he wrote a book over-analyzing a terrible Gwyneth Paltrow movie, I grabbed it.
I wish I like this book more. He uses this movie to talk about movies in general and the tropes we see used over and over again. He had some good points and there were a few times when I chuckled while listening to it. Overall it fell kind of flat.
I would pick up another book by this author just because I love his comedy.
I'm listening to the audio version of this book (what other version of it could I be listening to) and I am amazed. This book is hilarious, but chiefly because it's so unnecessary. Ayoade has picked a random, silly Gweneth Paltrow movie from the 2000s and with the greatest wit and sarcasm dissects the film as a fan but unknowingly -wink, wink - tears it to shreds. I can't stop laughing. This book has brought great joy to my weekend, I don't want it to finish!
So, I've finished this audiobook and loved every moment. Some of the best parts are where Ayoade mixes in some of his own life experiences into the narrative. His wit is dangerously sharp, he should have to carry a license or a warning or something because it will leave you bent over in stitches. I'm now going to find his other books, though I can't see how they could live up to this one. Seriously, the most outrageous and insane premise for a book I've ever heard of!
There is nothing like coming to this book completely unprepared for it. I came in expecting a light memoir, I left a ...film student? I can imagine actual film students reflexively cringing at this disturbance in the force.
I will not give away even the tiniest bit of the plot. I want every one of you to pick up this book knowing nothing about it, and then spend the first 100 pages or so with your jaw dropped at the sheer audacity of the existence of this thing. I wish to meet Ayoade's publisher and simply give him a commiserating pat on the back.
I still am having a hard time believing this book exists. But it is funny- one of those gasp-aloud funny books where you wake your partner up in the middle of the night to read them random details which will mean nothing to them without context. And they will resent you for it. It is worth it.
If you like wry, sarcastic, EXTREMELY ironic British humor that delights in the absurd…. then buckle up because have I got a book for you.
If you laughed even one time watching “Cunk on Earth” then I’d advise against reading or listening to this in a public place because I was out of breath more that once from laughing uncontrollably while listening to this and honestly I don’t believe I’d fare much better with the written text. Richard Ayoade is an absolute gem and what a gem of a book this is too.
(If you truly don’t know if his humor is for you then YouTube him trying to market this book on Graham Norton because this is what sold me on it in the end)
This was a rather bizarre premise for a book but of course, comedy genius Richard Ayoade managed to pull it off.
It follows, almost frame by frame a 2003 "dramady" Gwyneth Paltrow film View From The Top, Ayoade satirically preaching of it as, an underrated masterpiece of cinematography.
Of course his ramblings and in depth analogies of the scenes were what kept the book together, kept it funny and kept me going, although sometimes, being as wordy as it was, it was hard to follow sometimes. I was expecting something more like a memoir but Ayoade really sounds like a high class film reviewer as he discusses certain dialogue or scenes, or at least he would if he wasn't subvertently and completely taking the piss out of it.
If you like your humour high class and silly this book is for you. It's short (like this review) but you really need to pay attention and in all honesty it was the perfect length for what it contained and talked about.
I now have an intense amount of knowledge about this film, despite never having seen it or ever wanting to. It was a delight to listen to four hours of Ayoade in any context though.
Before reading it, I watched the movie. It was painful. But it was soo worth it to fully enjoy this book. Ayoade is brilliantly funny. I couldn't stop laughing. Now I am tempted to rewatch the movie just to appreciate it under a new light.
I've had the (dis)pleasure of watching View From the Top so, as soon as I discovered that it was going to be the topic for Richard Ayoade's third book, I knew I had to read this book. It was nearly 15 years ago now but I am still haunted by that film. The horrible orange outfit that Gwyneth and the cringe-inducing singalong during the credits. The film was badly made, badly written, and badly acted. We laughed our way through it. Definitely not something you can easily forget. And don't get me started on the feminist issues that the film raises or we'll be here all night. Whatever I think about the film, I was super excited to see Ayoade break it down into minute detail. His last two books have shown us how much of cinephile he is but this book looks set to take it even further.
And it is a glorious thing. Ayoade on Top is a masterful mix of incredibly silly and insightful. Yes, Ayoade takes a comedic approach and is sarcastic in his approach. However, there is so much detail about filmmaking here. Something that isn't hard to believe considering how good a director he is and how knowledgeable about cinema. I think there is a huge disconnect between the way some people see Ayoade and who he is in real life. Or at least who he is in interviews. I've not had the pleasure of coming face-to-face with him which is probably a good thing. I'd definitely put him off. I suspect the majority of people expect him to be like Moss from The IT Crowd but get him talking about films and it's all flipped. Watch him making his film picks in the Criterion closet and you get a bit of a sense of just how deep his passion goes.
But I digress. This book may be written as humour but the analysis of this film is very real. Okay, not really in the sense that he agrees with what he's saying but the theory is there. The understanding of how a film is put together and the little details that make it. Yes, it's indulgent but it's also refreshing. Most importantly it's really funny. I don't think I've laughed so much reading before. It's such a perfectly written book. Thanks to the premise, it's such a tightly written piece of comedy. The little asides and footnotes add just enough without ever taking away from the main thread. It's a clever piece of writing and it's engaging. It was so easy to read and I never felt aware of the time passing. You get caught up in the journey and just enjoy hearing Ayoade's voice.
And don't even tell me that you didn't read this hearing his voice in your head. This is pure Ayoade. Nobody else could have written a book like this and nobody will be able to replicate it. It manages to be utterly sincere whilst simultaneously being completely tongue-in-cheek. It feels impossible but it works so well. Ayoade is present on every page, which makes it feel incredibly personal. And the book does offer some insight into who Ayoade was when growing up. It's not exactly a biography but we get some insight into what it was like for him. Maybe some idea of what shaped him. You get a sense of how he came to be the slightly strange (and I say that lovingly) person he is now.
It's definitely not important to have seen View from the Top before you read this film. It might give you an extra insight but it would also mean you have to live with having seen View from the Top. And, believe me, that's not something you want to force upon yourself. Not knowing what we didn't know back then. There is still plenty to enjoy here. The humour won't appeal to everyone I know. However, it will appeal to those that enjoy a bit of surreal and, for lack of a better term, "whacky" comedy. A must-read for any lover of films, Ayoade, or good writing.
I just adore Richard Ayoade, and his incredibly dry wit. I have never seen the movie A View From the Top, but now I feel as though I understand it on a molecular level. I also feel like I understand the enigmatic mystery of a puzzler that is Richard Ayoade just a teensy bit more. A smidge.
I caught Richard Ayoade on The Graham Norton Show regaling the couch with a description of his new book and I knew I had to read it asap.
Richard Ayoade, the director of Submarine and The Double, is an exquisite filmmaker. I'm looking forward to his next film, whenever it arrives. He is also a well-known comedian and actor whose clips on YouTube are highly recommended. I couldn't help but read this entire book in his deadpan, self-deprecating voice.
Ayoade picks an obscure and obviously bad Gwyneth Paltrow-starrer named A View from the Top and goes through it, scene by scene, in forensic detail. He presents a case for why it should be reassessed and considered a masterpiece. He takes plenty of diversions both into his own childhood and cultural references (both classic and pop) to make his case. At one point, he compares this film favourably to Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread (my favourite film of this decade), which he calls a mushroom omelette dramedy---not an unfair description. The dissonance between Ayoade's own considerable filmmaking talent and what he (pretend) claims is masterful filmmaking in this book is what makes it so funny. It also comes with a list of index terms spanning a quarter of the length of the book and featuring Nipple, Buttery just two entries below Nietzsche, Friedrich. It's that kind of book.
A breezy Sunday evening virtually spent with one of the funniest people in the world. Worth it.
I'm a simple man of simple pleasures. What do we have here? A well-known comedian takes the piss out of Gwyneth Paltrow, Goop, and - most importantly - one of her biggest cinematic flops? I'm on board (the pun writes itself, so sue me)!
In his own words "It really is so important to give this film the respect it deserves" and he does take satire to the next level, so I'll happily join the journey. Making fun of Paltrow is like shooting fish in a barrel and I enjoy it as much as the next person, but my expectations were set sky-high (again, the flight-related innuendos!) and I've found myself mildly disappointed. Come on Richard, I know your work! Surely you can do better than that!
Early 2000s, Hong Kong. A teenage me is browsing VCDs at a rental shop, looking for movies to whittle away the long summer hours, and apparently, to inform the rest of my life. That is to say, this is how I first came to watch View From The Top, in the most organic manner possible - head sideways, reading plastic spines, a gait now threatened by Algorithm$.
For whatever reason (perhaps the same reason that sometimes The Wiggles’ sole line of “fruit salad, yummy yummy”, will course through my mind while I’m in a Professional Business Meeting, or 26m below the Java Sea, or mid-coitus, or any other yummy yummy fruit salad-absent scenario), scenes from Top have followed me ever since that fateful summer.
It’s always the same scene that pops up: the one where Gwenyth finally gets to Paris and she’s in her hotel room alone, and outside the window is the Eiffel Tower, the real Eiffel Tower, not her poster version, but since it’s an early 00s low-mid budget movie it’s actually lower res than the poster.
Unlike The Wiggles’ ear worm (sorry Jeff), it’s an oddly affective vision. Each time Gwenyth in Paris appears, I think of myself bored, pre-menstrual, naively drifting through a world of VCDs. Each time Gwenyth in Paris appears, I know I am further from that girl.
It’s after about 67 Gwenyth in Paris mental appearances that I come across Richard Ayoade and become a fan. I have absolutely no reason to think the two would ever cross paths. Yet lo and behold, around the 140th time I think of Gwenyth in Paris, the two worlds meet, and in long form no less. Ayoade has written an entire book on an average but lowkey charming VCD movie I watched one time but couldn’t quite forget. Of course he has.
Reading Ayoade’s book in Hong Kong in 2020, no longer on holiday but just on life, in a world so different to the one where Top entered, completes a strange triangle of cultural artefact and consumer. A triangle that means absolutely nothing to anyone else, but a bit of something to me.
This book is crack up, and arguably totally unnecessary, and isn’t that the best thing a book can be?
i can not BELIEVE the fight scene between christine and donna was glossed over like this (a small paragraph at the end of a chapter) i was SURE it would receive it's own chapter, as it deserves. anyways this was very funny and i would love to read more monographs on early 2000s movies but only if written by richard ayoade.
In my many years as an aspiring academic, I had to read my fair share of media analysis. I can assure you that nothing I read at university comes even close to the depths of this work: the most insightful text ever written about the groundbreaking romantic airplane comedy "View from the Top" (2003), starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Mark Ruffalo.
Also it repeatedly made me cackle like a hyena in public, so there's that.
I saw him on the Graham Norton show selling this and knew I must read it. Seriously, if you haven't seen the interview, go to YouTube at once. I'll wait.
Good, now you know why I picked this up and it did not disappoint. Only someone that smart with that deep a love of film could analyze it so well. Only someone that funny could make me belly laugh with the frequency he did. All I can say is enjoy!
I am, perhaps, the ideal audience for this book. I LOVE Richard Ayoade and I've seen View from the Top way too many times. Recently! My friend Aubses screened it a bunch of times in the first year and a half of the pandemic, and would regularly conclude other discord movie screenings with the "We are royalty" music number from the end. So many times that I know all the words! This book is so my speed and the content is just so hysterically, absurdly deep. It's a delight.
Only because I love Richard Ayoade could I be convinced to read an entire (short) book about a forgotten 2003 film called A View from the Top, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. I also watched the film, which isn't strictly necessary, but did help in visualizing the scenes as I read. The film is not good, but it's strangely not bad either. It's truly mediocre. Why Ayoade chose to write a book it is not addressed.
Ayoade on Top alternates between critical theory style close reading of scenes from the film and tangents. The critical part is framed as though Ayoade truly considers this a great film, which is totally ridiculous. It also parodies pretentious film studies writing and makes fun of the film's vapidness. To illustrate, here's a excerpt from the book Hitchcock's Films Revisited by Robin Wood (which I read in college):
[On Psycho] "Much of the film’s significance is summed up in a single visual metaphor, making use again of eyes, occurring at the film’s focal point (the murder of Marion): the astonishing cut from the close-up of the water and blood spiralling down the drain, to the close-up of the eye of the dead girl, with the camera spiralling outward from it. It is as if we have emerged from the depths behind the eye, the round hole of the drain leading down into an apparently bottomless darkness, the potentialities for horror that lie in the depths of us all, and which have their source in sex, which the remainder of the film is devoted to sounding.”
And here's Ayoade:
"Bruno Barretto's camera tilts down from the sky to a tableau of adult Donna Jensen (Gwyneth Paltrow) sitting in front of her mother's trailer. The elegance of the camera move almost threatens to distract us from its symbolism. Baretto, working from an Eric Wald screenplay, contrasts the still relevant concepts of 'up' and 'down' with the more esoteric notions of 'front' and 'behind' by tying them directly to physical observable forms. Up there (sky) lie dreams. Down here (land) lies reality. Behind her, lying on his behind (on a soiled couch), seemingly asleep, is her mother's fourth husband, Pete. This is the bedrock of great directing - translating images into ideas. Donna needs to get off her ass and reach for the sky, or she'll end up here forever!"
I realize that's a lot of text to reproduce in a Goodreads review, but I'm impressed by how spot on this parody is!
All told, the tangents are probably the better and funnier parts of the book. They range from Ayoade taking potshots at Goop to recounting his failed teenage attempt to buy a hat like Holden Caulfield's. They kind of make me wish Ayoade would just write a whole book like of funny anecdotes, but if he did, he'd just be like every other memoir-writing comedian out there. It's better this way.