Remember a time when movies focused more on dialogue and less on nudity and violence? Neither can most of the general population. Then again, with Sideways earning a rather impressive net at the box office, some of the old movie-making practices may reclaim their position in the entertainment spotlight.
Directed by Alexander Payne (Election and About Schmidt), Sideways takes a sideways glance at the life and friendship of Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), who decide to embark on a weeklong wine-tasting journey right before Jack is scheduled to tie the knot in Southern California.
The two men serve as opposite ends of the midlife spectrum. Miles is a middle-aged writer haunted by his past infidelities toward his former wife, while Jack, the blushing groom, is a washed-up actor who is constantly presented with the temptation to give into his sexual desires. The two eventually encounter Stephanie (Sandra Oh), and Mya (Virginia Madsen), who offer both men an escape from their former selves and a means to bring back hope in their lives. Throughout the vineyards of Santa Barbara County, Calif., and with the influence of wines like Pinot Noir, the men’s judgment becomes blurred, and the distinction between right and wrong suddenly loses its relevance.
Despite Jack’s credo, “We’re here to party, man,” the ‘party’ quickly turns sour when the friends realize the true mission of the trip is not to celebrate Jack’s final moments of freedom, but to struggle with the internal conflict between his younger and older selves. Miles must face his own unimpressive past in order to be of any use to his friend, Jack struggles to balance the best of both worlds and still make it down in time to exchange rings.
Unpretentious and honest, Sideways is more than just two friends’ love affair with wine and beautiful women. While it explores middle-age and the ‘human condition,’ it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Both the humor-minded and gay-hearted will appreciate its ability to harvest its subtle humor with the grace of one who harvests the grapes of the perfect Pinot. Sideways is a film about second chances and the ability to hope in a world that at times seems so painfully hopeless. Well-acted and well-scripted, Payne’s strength in directing is his talent for portraying honesty through characters who struggle to interact honestly in the world around them.
Catrina Brewton can be reached at email@example.com