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Directed by Alexander Payne.
Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor.  Based on the novel by Rex Pickett.
Starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  11/14/04


I loved "Election", I loved "About Schmidt", and when I heard that director Alexander Payne was putting out another flick I was all over it.

This time around it's "Sideways."  Paul Giamatti plays Miles, a character in the mold of nearly every character that Giamatti plays--Miles is running out of hair, he's neurotic, he's feeling sorry for himself thanks to a divorce and a book that will probably not get published.  When the film opens, Miles picks up his longtime buddy Jack (Thomas Haden Church), his former roommate at San Diego State and a man just a week from being married to a beautiful Armenian woman in LA.  Miles, Jack's best man, has a week of fun planned for the twosome, which in Miles' mind is wine tasting, golf, and lots and lots of good food.

Jack has, well, other ideas.  Miles and Jack head north of LA to a few stops on a mini wine tour and they spend a lot of their time getting into varying degrees of trouble.  And, they drink a lot.

When "Sideways" was over, my friend Wendy "Call my Agent" Robison said it best--it's really an adult movie.  Not because it's rated R or because it has middle-aged folks doing this, that and whatever; it's adult because the "fun" these guys get into is a much more mature, much more adult kind of fun that really won't appeal to someone whose idea of "partying with the girls" is not a picnic in the middle of a vineyard.  So, I think that many people I know--surely the more mature, wine-smart friends I have--will absolutely love "Sideways", because for many parts of this adventure, they will have first-hand experience.

For me, the most expensive wine I drink is Mountain Dew.  I have wine bottles in my apartment, but now that I think about it, I don't really know why, because I seriously know NOTHING about it.  Even better than this is the fact that I have four bottles of wine here, and I don't even have a corkscrew.  So, I would say roughly 40 of the film's 120 minutes flew right over my head, from the wine discussions, to the tastings, to the deep thoughts on wine and its place in the world, to grapes, to all of it.  There are times when that doesn't matter; maybe the best exchange in the movie comes when Miles and Jack are discussing a dinner date with two women (the love interests played by Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh) and beforehand, they argue over merlot.  I don't know if merlot is good, bad, high or low in the wine hierarchy, but I know that watching Giamatti's Miles yell about it was killing me.

So, throwing out all of that wine stuff, "Sideways" still has many great moments and is generally entertaining.  Giamatti has mastered this character type so his performance is a no-brainer; at times, Church is really funny, although his line delivery looks unnatural occasionally.  There's aren't any really cool or really funny or really dramatic minor performances here; no characters like the members of Dermot Mulroney's family in "About Schmidt" that give a film that extra je ne sais quoi.  But, the screenplay (based on a novel by Rex Pickett) has some really great drama; as Wendy mentioned, even if Giamatti is a master of the art form, he digs deep for some of these scenes as you can sense his character is really hit hard by some news he hears throughout the film.  The soundtrack is a good match for what's going on by being very understated throughout; it feels like a step above elevator music but I loved that it never got in the way of what was happening, just providing some soothing sounds while characters drank their wine and chatted.

I liked "Sideways"; I was on the fence between Matinee and $9.50 Show, but nothing about the film makes me think I need to see it again.  It seems like the last two days before Jack is set to be married are drawn out a bit; sure, there are some GREAT laughs near the end and a couple of revelations about the characters involved, but part of me just kind of wanted it to be over.  "Sideways" is not as strong as "Election" (my favorite of the three Alexander Payne films I have seen) either, so I'll admit that the bar is kind of high for my expectations.  Check it out, though...and, like I said, if you like and know wine, I'll bet that you will really love this film.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09