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.
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