Directed by Alexander Payne
USA, 2004, 126 min
“No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I’m not drinking any !@#$% Merlot!” – Miles Raymond
Two men spend a week in California’s central wine country in advance of one of their weddings the following Saturday. In some ways, Sideways is a fairly standard buddy, road movie. It is, however, an exceptionally good one with absurdly funny situations, mostly sharp dialogue, and well developed characters, including the California wine country itself.
It is a bit hackneyed to say that the setting is a character. One can make that statement about any film set anywhere remotely interesting. But the laid back, friendly wine country stands in stark contrast with the film’s main duo – the neurotic and depressed Miles (Paul Giamatti) and the amoral, sex-addicted train wreck, Jack (Thomas Haden Church). The movie doesn’t play up the fish out of water situation, but it is clear from the beginning that neither character truly belongs.
Miles certainly comes close. His often clobbers his dim-witted friend over the head with his knowledge of wine, and he is depicted as a regular to the area and a friend of the locals. He is also constantly on edge, afraid of defeats that he has already conceded, and pining for the past. It becomes clear that he doesn’t particularly belong anywhere, at least not until the movie’s ambiguous ending.
Jack on the other hand is a monster. Miles sets up the week in wine country for his own selfish enjoyment certainly, but Jack’s selfishness exists on another plane of existence. His actions are reprehensible, and if wine country were nastier turf he probably wouldn’t have made it out alive. Needless to say he’s not welcome back there by the end of the movie.
While I enjoyed Sideways, it suffers from two issues. First, in the few places where the dialogue is weak, it’s really weak (we get it – Miles sees himself as a Pinot grape). Also, its two main characters are so unlikeable that it may turn some moviegoers off. Otherwise, it’s worth a couple hours of your time.
You may like Sideways if: You are in the mood for a clever, mostly well written buddy comedy, or you absolutely love wine.
You may not like Sideways if: You get annoyed by occasionally weak dialogue, or you are turned off by unlikeable protagonists.
(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe