movie film review | chris tookey


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  Sideways Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
9.12 /10
Miles: Paul Giamatti Jack: Thomas Haden Church , Maya: Virginia Madsen
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Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor . Based on the novel by Rex Pickett

Released: 2004
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 124

Overpraised but enjoyable road movie.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Sideways is a small movie with a huge reputation. Itís just been Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay, for which itís already won a Golden Globe. Although its leading actor, Paul Giamatti (pictured left), has been overlooked in the Best Actor category, his co-stars Thomas Haden Church (pictured right) and Virginia Madsen have both been nominated for supporting roles.

Itís three kinds of picture in one. Itís a road movie, about two middle-aged friends, Miles (Giamatti) and Jack (Church), on a wine-tasting trip around Californiaís Santa Ynez valley, a week before Jackís wedding.

Itís also a buddy-buddy movie, with the two men who used to be friends at college discovering that in middle age they have become virtually opposites, an Odd Couple at large. Miles is a paunchy, disenchanted teacher, an unpublished and probably unpublishable author, an inveterate wine snob, and a romantic disaster-area, still wallowing in self-pity two years after his wife walked out on him.

Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is in better shape physically, but a washed-up TV soap actor with no knowledge of wine - just a lively interest in getting drunk, no scruples about loving and leaving women, and a determination to get laid before settling down to respectable domesticity.

The humour arises from the two friendsí dawning realisation that the other is a social embarrassment, and that they have almost nothing in common, except failure. Miles rebukes Jack for chewing gum at a wine-tasting and regards Jackís womanising is a sign that he lacks Milesís emotional maturity.

Jack may not know bad wine from good, but doesnít care. His principal concern is that, when they go for a night out with two women they donít know, Miles mustn't ruin Jackís prospects of free, meaningless sex. ďYouíve been officially depressed for, like, eight years,Ē Jack complains. ďI donít want you passing out or going to the dark side.Ē

Sideways is least convincing as a romantic comedy. Itís hard to feel that Jack is really cut out for marriage, or even a serious relationship, so his side of the romantic shenanigans is basically an excuse for some disappointingly crude, knockabout humour which borders on gross-out. We may laugh, but we never care what happens to him.

Virginia Madsen turns in an engaging performance as a lovely waitress and wine buff who sees past Milesís unpromising exterior and, frankly, not much more promising interior, to see the nice guy allegedly deep beneath. I didnít quite believe in her. She seems a little too much like a fantasy woman, and Miles doesnít do enough to deserve her.

The picture will appeal especially to depressives, for it tells them that all may be well in the end, with little or no effort required to change. A lot of critics tend to be depressives, which may be one reason why this film has achieved the extravagant praise that it has.

Did I enjoy Sideways? Yes, for its two leading characters, who are observed with great freshness and humanity in Alexander Payne and Jim Taylorís screenplay, based on a novel by Rex Pickett. There are a lot of perceptive observations about middle-aged self-deception, a few very funny scenes, and some laugh-out-loud lines of dialogue, as when Miles, after a day of wine tasting, phones his ex-wife out of lonely desperation, and Jack rolls his eyes with an ďOh, no!Ē expression and asks: "Did you drink and dial?"

Thereís also quite a clever, extended use of wine metaphor. Miles unconsciously identifies with grapes of the subtle, Pinot variety - he calls them thin-skinned, temperamental and in need of constant care and attention - while Jack is a more upfront, unsubtle Chardonnay.

The story drags in its middle section Ė most road movies are rambling, episodic and unstructured, and this oneís no exception. Nor does it have much to say about the relationship between the sexes, except that it is (apparently) the womanís role to be endlessly tolerant and supportive.

Alexander Payneís two previous tragi-comedies, Election and About Schmidt, were two of the outstanding pictures of the past decade. Sideways is neater, but less ambitious in scope Ė like its leading man, itís a bit too flabby round the middle. Youíll enjoy it most if you donít expect a masterpiece. This is a pleasant little film, with a rather over-inflated reputation.

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