Review: Sideways

After my brother Tom’s high recommendation and recent news articles that said the movie Sideways had picked up the most Golden Globe nomination this year I figured it was past time for me to see this movie.

Having seen more arts movies than blockbusters recently I have found I have a craving for movies that tell simple human stories. Special effects don’t wow me anymore. I prefer good acting and an engaging story line. With the buzz picking up on Sideways I was anxious to see if this would be 2004’s sleeper hit, much like My Big Fat Greek Wedding was in 2002. Like the fine bottles of wine around which much of the movie pivots, this movie may take a little more aging before we know for sure.

The story involves two middle-aged guys spending a week together touring Napa Valley. Twenty years earlier they shared a dorm room for a year but it was clear their relationship never got much beyond first base. Miles (Paul Giamatti) plays a rather ordinary southern Californian. In other words he is divorced, trying but not quite succeeding in selling his great novel and making ends meet teaching English. When not popping antidepressants and fretting over his ex-wife he occupies his time being a wine snob. His former college roommate Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is within a week of getting married and feeling frisky. Two people less likely to be friends have not been seen since The Odd Couple. Miles is introverted, bookish, and frequently peevish but obviously still hurting over his divorce. Jack is an actor who doesn’t act much and who used to have a part in a soap opera but is now way past his prime. Jack is also someone who clearly may have graduated high school but mentally never quite made it out of adolescence. Miles and Jack have hardly finished their first tasting at a winery before Jack is checking out the women and desperately figuring out how to get into some woman’s pants before he ties the knot.

Miles is too wounded and still in love with his ex-wife. He is also more than a little appalled by Jack’s behavior, which grows increasingly juvenile as the movie progresses. Eventually Jack’s antics get them involved with two women. Jack becomes obsessed with a tart he picks up at a winery, while Miles avoids moving too quickly into a relationship with Maya, a lovely blond who works at a local bar who shares his deep passion for wine.

I won’t give away more of the plot. The movie careens between romance, comedy and the eccentricities of odd people. Being Californian I guess Miles and Jack only seem eccentric to us in the other 49 states. The most passionate part of the movie probably comes when Miles and Maya talk about wine. I can enjoy a glass of wine but I can’t begin to distinguish a quality wine from a cheap one. If nothing else the movie made me appreciate wine in its many subtle aspects.

The movie is fun and a pleasant way to kill a couple hours. It is oddly touching at times. But I confess I don’t quite understand why it is garnering so many positive reviews. I particularly enjoyed the acting of Paul Giamatti as Miles, perhaps because I see so many things in him that remind me of myself. Chances are you will enjoy this movie more than I did, and I did enjoy it. It gets a solid three out of four stars from me but nothing more.

Please leave a comment telling me why you liked or did not like the movie. I’m wondering if I am missing something.

3 responses to “Review: Sideways”

  1. My, where to start! To compare this to My Big Fat Hollywood String of Ethnic Cliches! How dare you? The greatest pleasure for me in this movie was that Miles is just about the most real human being I’ve seen on screen in the last ten years. To start, he doesn’t look like a Hollywood concoction. I could believe that a depressed divorcee and high school-teaching wine conoisseur could act just like he did. As much as I liked, say, Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, I never stopped feeling like I was watching a great ACTOR. In Paul Giamatti playing Miles, I had this uncomfortable feeling I was peeking in on the inner life of a real person, in all its confusing ugliness. Bravo, Paul! There is a moment of the film, really the very essence of the movie, where he suggests that his personality is very much like a Pinot Noir grape, a fruit that could be awful and bitter, but under the right climatic conditions and care, something really extraordinary. What he says is just beautiful poetry — but what I like about that scene is that it plays on many levels. Do you see Miles as being honest in that scene, or is it self-serving, hoping to earn himself undeserved love? Is his little Johari Window insight into himself very different than how others would judge him? My companion for the film had a very different impression of that scene than I did, and I really like that. The other pleasure in the film is that the buddy-film cliche is used but extended in a truly novel way. You have two thoroughly different characters in Miles and hypersexual Jack, but there interaction is far deeper than the typical Schwartzeneggerian one-liners. And ok, I haven’t laughed as hard as I have in that film in many years; there is a sex scene in there that is fall-off-your-chair funny. Throw in an absolutely hilarious car accident, too. This movie made me laugh, squirm, AND think. That’s a great compliment in my book.


  2. I saw “Sideways” at the suggestion of brother Tom Hamill today. I thought it was a very good, though not great movie.

    The best thing about this movie is that the characters seem so real. Miles is an anguished middle-aged man with a divorce in his recent past that he hasn’t put behind him. He’s a school teacher and would-be novelist who doesn’t succeed in hiding his inner torments. In the movie, Miles and his friend Jack, a former college roommate and a minor actor, vacation with each other in California’s wine country in the week leading up to Jack’s wedding on a Saturday.

    Unknown to Jack, Miles’ efforts to get his novel published are getting nowhere.

    Jack is in an upbeat mood as the vacation begins, and he decides it’s time for him to enjoy life and sow a few wild oats just before tying the knot. His attempts to pull Miles out of his funk are largely unsuccessful. However, Jack does manage to insinuate himself, and eventually Miles, into the lives of two divorcees. Jack falls for a lively young woman, Stefi; Miles crosses path with Maya, someone he’s already acquainted with, and a relationship of sorts ensues.

    In “Sideways”, viewers see characters experiencing and showing quite a range of emotions and traits, including lust, personal warmth, depression, hurt and angry vengefulness. The quartet of leading characters all come across as plausible and human. The story is full of wistful humor. And because the characters seem so real, and their situations seem so plausible, viewers are treated to a movie that’s a lot more authentic than most Hollywood fare.


  3. Great article, I see the movie pretty much like you do.
    Wasn’t the best movie but it got under my skin somehow,
    being a writer myself, on some level I think I could relate.
    Loved that he quoted Bukowski as well.


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