Sideways (2004)
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Review Date: December 22, 2004
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Producers: Michael London
Paul Giamatti as Miles
Thomas Hayden Church as Jack
Virginia Madsen as Maya
Two adult friends head out to vineyard county for a week, as one of the two moochachos is about to get hitched in seven days time, while his best buddy is depressed about his divorce, his inability to get published as a writer and his marrying friend’s constant emphasis on getting laid and enjoying life. They meet two lovely ladies while on their trip, enjoy drinks, conversations and…dare we say…growth?
I watched this movie from my hospital bed. I mention that off the top of my review, not for some lame attempt at sympathy, but because it taps directly into one of the film’s grander themes, that of the “crossroads” of one’s life. I like most movies dealing with that topic because all of us, no matter how old, smart or giant in the pants, come to a point in our lives when we’re not exactly sure about what’s next. Somewhat similar to director Alexander Payne’s previous film, ABOUT SCHMIDT, which has turned into a perennial favorite of mine (to watch when confused about my own life), and plenty similar to one of my favorite movies of all-time, SWINGERS (note the many similarities including two buddies heading out on a road trip, the “talk” by the side of the road, the embarrassing phone calls, the golf game, the one guy who picks up girls like it’s going out of style and the other who’s not good at that “the game”, etc…), SIDEWAYS has been widely touted in critics circles as the greatest thing since sliced ham, and even though it is a solid film, I think the overhype on this one might’ve tainted any hyperbole from my end. But with all of my rambling aside and despite the film’s overemphasis on wine, wine-tasting, wine drinking and vineyards, the movie works because the relationship between the two lead men is one that many of us have been through and one to which many folks should be able to relate (other than the fact that best friends apparently lie to one another? Not on my watch).

Paul Giamatti’s character, in particular, is a man down-and-out about his personal and professional life, seemingly lost in a world full of happy, shiny people around him. His best buddy, effectively played by Thomas Hayden Church, is the guy who just wants to get laid all the time, enjoy every day to its fullest and not worry too much about the bigger details of life. I think that both actors were good in their roles here, but again, I didn’t see what all the “Oscar talk” fuss was all about. I really like Giamatti as an actor, but much like his similarly morose character in AMERICAN SPLENDOR, I don’t see much range in his characters. In fact, I remember thinking the same thing I did when I was watching him in the former film and that was: “Dude, lighten the fuck up once in a while!!” It’s entertaining to watch someone on the brink of their existence at times (like in this movie), but there always comes a point where you surpass entertainment and fall into wallowing, which isn’t all that entertaining. Church’s character is definitely funny, but his range in the film is also about as wide as my pinky toe. The man wants to fuck. End of character development. He has one scene in which he “shows some depth”, but other than that…the man is “comic relief” all the way.

The same can be said about Sandra Oh (aka Mrs. Alexander Payne), who enters the picture as a sexpot and exits it, the same way. Only Virginia Madsen’s character and acting is worthy of high praise, in my opinion. A great turn by an actress who we don’t hear from too often. The film is a fun overall watch though, especially if you’re someone in the same predicament as the character in the movie, wondering about where your life is headed. That said, it’s a “slice of life” movie, so anyone expecting an actual “story”, should look elsewhere. The film moves at a nice pace, with a superbly crafted score that hops along the whole way. Payne comes into his own here as well, with a great balance of depth and humor, scenes of over-the-top hilarity, naked butts and penises, as well as plenty of pretentious “wine talk” and romantic sceneries (I want to live in a vineyard after watching this movie). I love how Giamatti actually holds one of his ears closed while sniffing the bouquet from one of the wines…classic! The film’s ending is about as reminiscent as the one in ABOUT SCHMIDT as you could get, but with a slightly different twist. The one in the former film hit me where it hurts…and counts. This one, well, was good, but not a mind-blower or anything all too surprising or deep. All in all, a successful small picture dealing with the crossroads of one’s life as an adult, with lots of interesting conversations, funny moments, solid characters and lovely things to see.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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