Sunday, February 13, 2005

Movie Review: Sideways

United States, 2004
U.S. Release Date: 10/20/04 (limited)
Running Time: 2:03
Rated: R (Profanity, sexual situations, nudity)
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh

Director: Alexander Payne
Producer: Michael London
Screenplay: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett
Music: Rolfe Kent
Studio: Fox Searchlight

Posted by Hello
Writer/director Alexander Payne has penned and guided his greatest work to date. Backing away from the bleakness of his last effort (About Schmidt), Payne has moved on to greener pastures in creating this pensive and sophisticated comedy. Based on the novel by Rex Pickett, Sideways is a kaleidoscope of multidimensional characters. With absolute top-shelf acting, we are convinced by the on-screen humanity in the four most real, earnest, and unaffected character portrayals of the year. Sideways is a harmonization of friendship, love, and wine that is peppered with enough pizzazz to make it the best comedy of the year.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a depressed wine connoisseur, who can’t find a publisher for his book, and who still laments his divorce that left him wallowing in loneliness. Meanwhile, Miles’ old roommate from college, Jack (Thomas Hayden Church), is living life to the fullest and is scheduled to marry his girlfriend in one week. But, before Jack ties the knot, Miles organizes a weeklong excursion for the two of them—a jaunt through California’s Wine Country to taste and talk about some of the finest wines the area has to offer. However, Jack has plans other than just sipping on fermented grapes during his final week as a bachelor: Jack wants to go wild and have a few flings before he commits to marriage.

Searching for a woman, Jack finds Stephanie (Sandra Oh) – working at a winery – who happens to be a friend of Maya (Virginia Madsen)—Miles’ past acquaintance and secret crush. Needless to say, the energetic Jack sets up a double date to bring the four of them together. Right from the get-go, Jack and Stephanie hit it off sexually, while Miles and Maya connect mentally in a beautiful conversation on wine. All the while, Miles is forced to keep Jack’s upcoming marriage from Stephanie. Throughout the week, Jack starts to rethink his wedding, while Miles’ and Maya’s relationship begins to bud—not only as two oenophiles, but also as a man and a woman who each long for love.

Even though the cast does not contain any headliners, the four leading roles could not have been any better. Paul Giamatti matches his excellent acting in last year’s American Splendor with his nominee-worthy performance here as the deeply despondent Miles. Virginia Madsen reestablishes her career with a charming performance, while Sandra Oh, the wife of the writer/director (at the time of filming), makes it clear that she is an actress with talent. And finally, kudos to Thomas Hayden Church for his role as the wired woman addict; the former star of “Wings” steals the show in every scene he inhabits.

Not only does Sideways offer an intelligent intriguing four-part character study, but it also offers some enticing intellect on the topic of wine. How wine is made, what makes it a delicate process, and why people perceive wine as artful and poetic, is all discussed. The vino vernacular that the film uses not only educates the viewers about wine, but it also allows them to become privy to the intricacies of Pinot.

Sideways possesses the perfect blend of drama and wry humor. It is a magnetic tale of two entirely different men - each on their own personal soul-searching getaway - that has the audience feeling laid-back at one moment and then crying with tears of laughter the next. Overall, Sideways is a palatable, oxygenating, and intoxicating motion-picture that – just like a fine wine – will certainly continue to gain appeal and value with age. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005