Sideways (2004)

In vino veritas

Sideways (2004)
Neutral Neutral Neutral
Director: Alexander Payne
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Reviewed by Popcorn - 4/13/05

In this funny and quirky drama, two friends—Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church)—set out on a week's vacation before Jack's upcoming marriage to a rich woman and a well-connected conventional family.  On the surface, the two couldn't be more different: Miles an out-of-shape oenophile (wine-lover) trying to get a book published and Jack a southern-California actor who once had his breakthrough doing commercial voice-overs.

The idea of the trip for Miles is to spend some quality time with his friend to get his mind off a) his recent divorce, b) his dead-end job teaching highschool English, and c) anxieties about the book being published.  And to drink a lot of wine.  Jack, on the other hand, wants to a) get his friend Miles laid and b) get himself laid before tying the knot—not necessarily in that order.  The chosen peripheral activities are wine tasting and golf.

Mostly wine tasting.  After an uncustomary visit to Miles' mother's place, where Miles sneaks some cash from her dresser drawer, the pair wanders up from the San Diego area into California wine country, wining and (Miles) whining all the way.  Miles, ever the haughty connoisseur instigates a couple of comic tasting incidents, while Jack amiably goes along with the alcoholic cover, chasing his own addiction to tail.

Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a clerk at a wine sampling booth, appears to want to reciprocate Jack's carnal enthusiasm.  She has a friend, Maya (Virginia Madsen), who works as a waitress in a local diner, near the motel Miles and Jack are staying.  Miles has stayed here before, and in fact knows Maya and has yearned for her from an emotionally safe distance.  That Stephanie knows Maya proves fortuitous, and the hotter couple initiates a double date.

During the dinner portion of the date, Miles becomes inebriated and depressed, then decides to call his ex to whimper.  Jack is upset that Miles seems intent on "messing up a free lunch," and chastises him with the classic line, "Oh, no.  Tell me you didn't drink and dial!"  Despite Miles' every attempt to sabotage the evening, the four wind up back at Stephanie's, where Jack and Steph quickly head for the horizontal-mamba chamber.

Miles and Maya are left in the breezeway, talking about themselves and wine as if they are the same thing.  Maya is becoming fond of Miles, in spite of his negativity; she is impressed he has written a book, and tries to be encouraging.  During their soul-sharing session on the veranda, Maya delivers a paean to wine and to love and to life.  This soliloquy is exquisite, just as is she, and why she was nominated for best supporting actress.

The remainder of the movie for me becomes anticlimactic, though it resolves the issue of love for Miles and the issue of lust for Jack, with an equal measure of humor and pathos.  The men find out the meaning of friendship, and life goes on.  If the movie has a moral beyond that, it's probably that there's nary a kettle that some lid won't fit, i.e. somewhere out there is a someone for everyone.

I like the upbeat sensitivity that resolves the rivers of Miles' depressive banter.  If you can gather the humor and love through Miles' whiny haze, you'll like the movie.


from the Popcorn Gallery

Intergalactic Hyperchick-Kernels Starlight, Sunshine, and Moonbeam

 Commentary: Starlight 

....Yeah, Sunshine and I seemed to think both these guys were non-admirable 'small' people:  a gainfully employed adult who steals from his mother, and the other one ...  While this is supposedly a yuk-yuk- 'guyz' movie, I can understand characters like this being loveable when they're younger and can be forgiven more easily... Anyway, I left the movie wondering what the hullaballoo's all about.

 Commentary: Sunshine 

Yes, Virginia Madsen deserved to win Best Supporting Actress as Maya.  And she deserved it this year.  Cate Blanchett's fine performance as Katherine Hepburn notwithstanding, I feel the Academy's scales may have tipped in favor of sentimental tribute to the late screen legend.

About Miles:

At first, I assumed he was simply a low-key kind of guy with a dry sense of humor.  Miles' flaws, his lack of initiative and absence of enthusiasm seemed to emerge gradually and subtly.  He just drifted along with the tide, reacting and brooding rather than daring to make things better for himself.  The movie was well afoot before I realized my growing antipathy toward him.  He was irkingly passive, irkingly superficial, irkingly ordinary!  And not too honest either.  The pilfering-from-momma scene was more than a quiet act of desperation.  It was his surreptitious easy-fix way of dealing with problems that required a full-blown overhaul rather than mere band-aids or crutches.  So I remained unmoved by Miles and his deceptive helplessness.  Until the film's end.  Its final segment beautifully redeems its main character and catapults this thought-provoking indie into the big leagues.

Good question whether Miles is an alcoholic, but he seemed more a whino-o than a wino…

I don't think he was really an alcoholic.  But, contrary to Mitch Albom's exasperated view of the whole wine-tasting thing as being overdone and over-the-top, I think it was a fitting movie theme.

I think both characters served to enhance the other's "route to happiness."  Each was gladly willing to use, and be used by, the other.  They were so glaringly different that they somehow complemented each other.  In a wacky way, it was a perfectly balanced friendship and, even wackier, a surprisingly successful week.  Jack got what he wanted, and Miles got much more.  Four fluffy ones.

 Commentary: Moonbeam 

I LIKED Sideways.  I didn't love it; but I walked away from it gratified that I had witnessed the growth of character.  Not as much (growth) as I wanted during the time I sat in the movie theatre; still, it seemed to be heading in the right direction and I felt confident that Miles, with his new outlook on life and especially on real friendship would continue to mature.  Beyond the ending credits I envisioned Miles gaining confidence in himself, sparked of course by Maya's forgiveness and interest in him.  I saw Miles distancing himself from Jack as he realizes that his "friend" was only using him, and I even saw Miles visiting his mother and secretly returning the cash he stole from her drawer to impress a very unworthy buddy.  And that glimmer of maturation in Miles is what made Sideways a socially redeeming movie for me.  A loser becomes a winner because he finally opens his eyes.

I never saw Jack as part of the friendship.  He was lost in himself right from the opening scenes at his future in-laws' home and only sank deeper into sleazehood as the friends' misadventures into whine country [pun intended] continued.  In fact I had so much loathing for Jack that days and weeks later I found myself disgusted in retrospect with Lowell Mathersof all people!  (Lowell was the hapless but irresistibly loveable aviation mechanic on the popular comedy series, "Wings" that Haden-Church played for many seasons.  How much sense does THAT make?  None, except maybe it speaks to Haden-Church's wonderful ability to play quirky characters one loves to hate.

Though Virginia Madsen's character was the softer and more endearing of the two women involved, I thought Sandra Oh's Stephanie showed much more range of emotions.  She went from a competent and convincing wine connoisseur to a slutty come-on girl, to a caring mother, to a betrayed lover, to an outraged woman who took care of things in her own swift way.

Popcorn's question about Jack's womanizing being the catalyst for Myles's route to happiness is asking if the end justifies the means.  Would Miles have found the courage to pursue Maya without Jack's aggressive timetable to get them both laid?  Possibly.  We do know that Miles knew Maya long before Jack met her, so he could eventually have found the voice to ask her out, but probably not the way he was going about it.  But in the end, maybe that IS what Jack did for Miles.


I have viewed the movie Sideways several times. I believe the concept and story line to be strong with well developed characters.
I truely enjoyed this movie and beleive that Paul Giamatti should have earned an OSCAR for his performance. He captured the essence that is Miles like no other actor could have. It was his break through performance and he was over looked as the OSCAR went to Jamie Fox for Ray.

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