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When Sideways was released into theaters in late 2004, I was but an 18 year old boy about to graduate high school working a movie theater job in order to get my free fix. A movie about two middle aged dudes trying to reclaim their youth on a trip through wine country? That couldn’t have been anything further from my life at that point (and even now, to be honest with you). Then one night, I watched it. A few weeks later, I watched it again…then again…and after five theater viewings, I bought it on DVD the day it came out and have watched it at least ten times since. Sideways, a movie that should appeal to people of that age, not only surpassed my expectations, I consider it my favorite movie of all-time.

Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is an English teacher at a California school who spends his free time moping and trying to get his books published. However with each rejection, his hopes diminish. Add that to the fact that he resents his job as a teacher (probably thinking of the phrase “those who can’t do teach”), is alone after getting divorced, and has no real good prospects for the next chapter of his life, and you’ve got possibly the saddest character in cinema history. His only true joy? Wine, and lots of it! As a wine connoisseur, he decides to take his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) out for a week in the California wine country for tastings and good food. This is Miles’ present to Jack, who is getting married the day after they get back. Jack, however, has different plans: he wants one last hurrah while out there, looking to score with any women who come his way. Jack meets the single mother Stephanie (Sandra Oh) at a wine tasting stop and they begin a whirlwind romance that threatens Jack’s impending marriage. Meanwhile, Miles reunites with a woman named Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress at his favorite restaurant, and the two begin to fall for one another, representing Miles’ possible last chance at happiness and love. However, the foundation of the two relationships are based on lies: Jack doesn’t tell Stephanie he’s getting married and Miles has to not only keep that a secret, but lie that his book is getting published. The powder keg heads closer and closer to explosion as Miles and Jack get closer and closer to having to leave.

The true strength of Sideways lies in the characters of Miles and Jack and their friendship. While Miles is content to be neurotic, Jack is the complete opposite: his impending slide into old age is only fueling the inner youth inside him and while Miles just drinks, Jack tries to live it up. To Jack, this trip is his last chance to party, to be the single guy he is so accustomed to before he has to “grow up” and get married, a fear that subconsciously drives him to ruin it in any way possible. Church, who made his resurgence into Hollywood with this film, is the comedy of Sideways and also the instigator. All the funny lines belong to him, and his eternal optimism is there to counterbalance the nihilism Miles exhibits. Church is completely pitch perfect, and even as he makes mistakes, you wish things can work out regardless because you know that he’s not trying to mess things up, that’s just in his nature. However, the situations he drags Miles into are self-destructive not only to him but to his friend as well and no matter how good his intentions are, it’s still a problem.

I want to vent this out right now, before I get into the reasoning because it has been bothering me for over five years: Paul Giamatti deserved that Oscar. He was robbed, and he should have been the one with the statue. Forget the fact that Giamatti has been turning in good performances before and after Sideways; the simple fact is that Giamatti portrayed one of the most scarily realistic sad sack losers in the history of cinema. Miles Raymond feels like the teacher you see in high school who is teaching you the merits of Shakespeare, but behind those eyes, you can see the disdain and depression they have because instead of people reading their work, they have to teach others’ work instead. His bitterness, which turns into self-loathing, is full and powerful and Giamatti showcases it in every way, from the delivery of his lines to the mannerisms he portrays. At all points in time, Miles is sulking, when he’s sitting down he is bent over and has this look in his eyes where it seems like he is constantly going over and over all the mistakes he has made in his life that have brought himself to this point. Whenever Miles talks, there is little passion behind anything that isn’t negative or has something to do with wine or his book. He is constantly haunted, constantly bogged down, and he can’t seem to shake it.

Giamatti created the iconic sad sack in my eyes, and it got to me because I could see myself becoming Miles Raymond. I can imagine myself unhappy with my life, harboring all the resentment and pain of a life of bad decisions, stuck somewhere where I don’t want to be. I understand how depressing that is, but it’s unfortunately realistic. Few people are happy as time goes on, be it for one reason or another. It’s conceivable we could all end up like him in some way.

Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen hold there own as well, being the beacon of hope for both men but in very different way. Oh’s Stephanie is a connection to Jack’s youth; she’s younger and full of life, much like he feels and when the two begin spending all their time together, they become a full fledged couple. Stephanie, unbeknownst to her, has fallen for a taken man, but her emotions are very real and she clings onto every word he says hoping it is true (she has a child from a relationship that didn’t work out). She is a scarred woman and Jack acts so nice, so great that she needs him as much as he needs her. Maya, the character played by Madsen, is Miles’ shot at happiness. She is also divorced and scarred from being hurt in the same way Miles is, and the two begin to bond over a few days. Maya knows the essence of Miles, the true feelings he possesses, and understands (and even likes) him for it. Miles sees Maya as almost a soulmate of sorts, especially in their similar interests. Maya is as into wine as Miles is, and during the pivotal scene between the two, they each use their favorite wine as a metaphor for them as people, opening up without having to open up like two people who have been hurt would tend to do. Both of these relationships feel so real, and each have so much chemistry together, that you can’t help but get invested in what happens and fear what may happen when Miles and Jack finally have to leave.

Sideways is beautifully written and beautifully shot. Alexander Payne, who also wrote the movie (adapted from a book of the same name by Rex Pickett), puts together a film that is great to look at as well as dialogue so sharp and poignant that you get sucked into this very human film. The shots of the wine country itself are gorgeous and even if you aren’t a wino, you can respect it. It’s a minimalist movie, no crazy or experimental shots, but it brings you right into the picture and you feel like you’re a part of the journey. A particular shot comes to mind (and SPOILER ALERT) when I think of the film: after returning from wine country, Miles is sitting in the lobby of a fast food place, eating greasy onion rings while sipping wine has smuggled in. It’s a mix of two worlds, the wine representing how he wants his life to be and the food representing how his life truly is. For some reason, that shot always gets me and is my favorite scene of Sideways. The script itself is both funny and heartbreaking; it’s not a gut buster, but it mixes in enough comedic moments to counteract the flat out bleakness of the situation. When the comedic moments happen, they are on the nose, especially when it pertains to Church and his character of Jack. As said earlier, he is the comedy nucleus and he shines through whenever something funny needs to happen.

S
ideways is a movie that has a lot more for people of any age. It’s a buddy comedy, and at the same time it is a drama about growing up and the consequences of the choices you make. It features characters that are lifelike and realistic to the ninth degree, and a perfectly plausible story that will have you laughing and gasping and feeling hopeful, followed by feeling hopeless. Although robbed at the Academy Awards, Sideways will stand the test of time to anyone willing to really give it a watch (or fifteen) to soak in everything it has to offer. It’ll make you think about where your life could end up…and will deter you from ever drinking any Merlot.

 


Comments

Sideways HATER
03/16/2010 05:32

Jon. you are gay

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Joey
03/17/2010 19:15

Just out of curiousity, have you seen the <a href="http://www.nipponcinema.com/releases/dvd/sideways-standard-edition-20th-century-fox/">Japanese remake</a>?

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Joey
03/17/2010 19:16

whoops, guess you can't use HTML in comments.

Reply
03/17/2010 22:31

I've heard rumblings about this, but I feel like I would probably get just as mad as the Japanese do when we horribly remake something of theirs.

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