The small, independent film Sideways made something of a critical and financial splash last year. With a budget of only $16 million it managed to gross over $70 million at the theaters. This bodes well for movies aimed at older adults, as the more teenage-oriented action and horror movies with huge budgets seem to be bombing all over the place. The big question is, however, is this movie as good as all the hype surrounding it? Depressed sad sack Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a schoolteacher and struggling writer who takes his soon to be married best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip to the wine country of Santa Barbara, California for a week. Miles wishes to have a good time with his best friend eating good food, relaxing, and teaching Jack how to enjoy the fine nuances of good wine. Jack, who is a bit of a schmuck, wants to find chicks and party on his last week of freedom.
While in Santa Barbara, Jack hooks up with a cheerful, pleasant pourer named Stephanie (Sandra Oh) at a winery. Miles joins the two on a double date and is hooked up with the pretty and intelligent Maya (Virginia Madsen). While Jack and Stephanie have a great time, Maya and Miles discover that they have a deep common interest in wine. Instead of taking a chance on the obviously willing Maya however, Miles drunk dials his ex-wife and generally acts like a stick-in-the mud. Nontheless Maya thinks she has discovered a kindred soul and she and Miles eventually get together on the trip.
Sideways is a vulgar teen sex road trip comedy, only with lonesome middle-aged adults instead of vacuous kids. While this type of movie is not really my cup of tea, I found the two hours I spent with these four people to be mostly pleasant. The movie, which is mostly dialogue, drags in some places even though I found the talk to be mostly clever and engaging (the movie did win an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay). While both Miles and Paul aren’t exactly likeable, both Giamatti and Church do a great job and by the end of the movie I liked Miles and Jack at least enough to wish them both well.
Some of the things I really enjoyed about this movie are the performances of Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen. Both of these women play likeable characters that are in their own ways as lonely and searching as the men, although neither come across as quite as desperate. This movie is built upon its characters and would have been ordinary if it hadn’t been for the excellent casting. The clever dialogue supplies most of the humor, but the most laugh-out-loud moments come in moments of crude vulgarity. Not that I’m against vulgarity, I’m just warning any who might not like such scenes. The DVD release for Sideways is okay. Sight and sound are decent, the cinematographer went to pains to show the beauty of California’s wine region and the DVD does nothing to hinder our enjoyment of those open spaces. The sound is fine with the dialog being clear and understandable. Rolf Kent’s understated Jazz score is noticeable but not obtrusive.
The extras are fairly standard with deleted scenes, a making of featurette and the original trailer. All are fine and decent although the commentary is disappointing. It features Thomas Haden Church and Paul Giamatti, who spend the time cracking uninteresting jokes (many about their own bodies) and occasionally sharing some information about a scene. It is just not worth listening to, which is a shame because I find the actors engaging and likeable and when they talk they seem like regular guys instead of the more common tiresome “Feeelm” actors who normally do these acting commentaries.
In closing I’m not really sure if this movie deserves all the hype it garnered. I found myself looking at my watch way too many times and I’m hoping I just wasn’t in the mood for this movie and that it will grow on me. I would love to see more movies aimed at older audiences, especially ones that have characters that seem like flesh and blood three-dimensional human beings. The constant thread of wine and wine appreciation was a nice touch, and I really enjoyed the dialogue where wine is discussed. I’m a beer person though, so I will have to wait for a witty comedy that takes place in a microbrewery where the characters have discussions about the full body of stouts and the floral bouquet of Saaz hops. And I like Merlot, dammit!
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