Sideways (2004) — Wine and whiners

“Quaffable, but uh… far from transcendent.”

Nancy’s rating: The cover is misleading! Don’t trust it, it’s dirty and it lies!

Nancy’s review: Paul Giamatti is a wonderful man in that very depressing way, in that he takes a very realistic pathetic persona and makes it hilarious and loveable. This actor is necessary so that the real men with the wine bellies (Is that a thing? I’m not even sure) and the goatees and the partially balding head actually have a soul and a complex personality to the people they meet in passing. Assuming those people are familiar with Paul Giamatti movies.

Anyway, on to the dirty lying cover of Sideways. The first thing that put me off is what is written on the bottom of the case. “From the director of Election and About Schmidt,” two movies I have not seen due to either bad hearsay or that kind of good hearsay that I don’t like. Like “Hey, yeah, Nancy, you’ll like Election. It has Matthew Broderick in it. He has angry sex while picturing Reese Witherspoon. No, he hates Reese Witherspoon. That’s why it’s angry.” I don’t want to see my boyfriend in that type of situation. And About Schmidt? ”Hey Nancy. Youthful, energetic and inspiring R.P. McMurphy is very old and very sad. You‘ll love it.” See, that right there would just break my heart.

Anyway, due to my unfair judgment, we were off to a bad start, bad feelings for Sideways thus far. Then, the pictures of the main characters are completely wrong and give you the worst idea of the movie. Giamatti is the only one smiling and he is the only one who is clinically depressed. His compadre (Thomas Haden Church) has a facial expression like Peter Gallagher, and that’s a crime in some countries.

Miss Sandra Oh looks simple, sweet, curious, perhaps a little empty-headed. In the film she is a biking badass who reminds me of every aunt I’ve ever had (You didn’t need to know that tidbit, but next time you meet a woman wearing a bandanna, you’ll think of me and my aunts. I like to make my mark in your mind.) I guess Virginia Madsen’s expression is okay. If everyone else got their facial expression right FOR THE PICTURE THAT WILL BE ON THE COVER OF THE FILM, I would be happier and probably more excited to watch this. Also, the plot summary on the back of the cover reads “The comically mismatched pair soon find themselves drowning in wine, women… and laughter!” Yuk yuk yuk! We’re like Laurel and Hardy, except a poignant look at mid-life crises!

Covers lie — it’s pretty great.

Sideways is the story mainly of Miles, who has been divorced for two years. He’s a writer. Now even though writing is basically my passion and the thing my movie would be about if I had a movie, normally I don’t like it when characters are writers. Granted, a lot of my characters are. Maybe it’s just because I feel most people who write about writers don’t get it right. They are so … off. Which doesn’t make sense because…they’re writers.

It makes me slap my forehead and say “Guys! Are you kidding me? Doctors know how to be doctors! Horses know how to be horses! Why don’t writers KNOW HOW TO BE WRITERS? I betcha if a horse wrote a play, all the other horses would applaud. It would be weird with the hooves but it would be applause nonetheless.” The closest a film has come to depicting writers well enough for my liking is in Lost In Translation, where Charlotte says “I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I tried being a writer but I hate what I write.” Damn, that movie is so great. Go read my review for it.

Anyway, this movie came even closer than Lost In Translation. He was a writer but it was not the entire plot, but it was clear throughout the entire film that it consumed a large part of him. He was a writer, but he didn’t talk constantly about it. The kicker was when she asked him the plot of his novel and he replied “It’s hard to summarize.” That makes me say “Yeah!” for whenever anyone asked me what my recent play was about, I’d freak out, think immediately about one scene where a character eats fruit loops, and then say “It’s about cereal. And… blues music. And … mad libs.” All very small details in a very hard-to-describe plot. I want to read the novel Miles wrote.

Miles’ old college roommate, Jack, is getting married. Miles takes him on a wine-tasting road trip, trying to send the old boy off all classy-like. Miles love of wine is key, obviously, as it is the resident quirk of this film. But it also is the host to many-a metaphor describing his love life, sensitivity, and depression. He prefers Pinot, something I know little about but he sure does. That’s the big center point of his personality; he’s totally ‘a Pinot’. He is a wine expert.

This film is like watching Scrubs — both rattle off a bunch of terms that you don’t know unless you’re a drunk doctor. Anyway.

So Jack totally wants to bang chicks on this trip, before getting marriage. Depressed Miles, who definitely needs a little loving, is hesitant, probably because of the horrible example Jack sets. Jack meets Stephanie, the wild biker chick who is my aunt (see above). Stephanie happens to be friends with Maya, a waitress at a restaurant which Miles frequents on his wine-tasting adventures (that’s right, this isn’t the first. Wine is like comics for middle-aged people.)

Jack starts having wild sex with Stephanie. Miles and Maya start talking. Can Miles handle emotional attachment while dealing with depression, his divorce, his novel not getting published (but Jack keeps telling everyone it is) (Isn’t Jack a jerk?) and a lingering feeling of no one getting him, no one getting how he just wants to sip wine and play golf and be in love with a cool woman and have a cool best friend who doesn’t bang random Asian motorcycle chicks before his wedding?

In a weird way, Miles, I know how you feel.

That’s the basic plot for you. I must say, it is quite funny. Funnier than most mid-life crises movies can be, while still maintaining their message and quasi-depressing aura. The highlight was when, upon hearing of his wife’s remarriage, Miles grabs a bottle of wine and runs off into the landscape. It’s… perfectly timed so it’s realistic, shocking (unless you read this review) and so comical without being cheesy. Jack, even though he’s a jerk, is loveable because he has a quick, dumb humor and he justifies his actions… somehow. And in the end, he knows he’s done wrong.

I liked that especially. I noticed every time a character in this film did a major moral no-no, they reaped appropriately to what they sowed. When you do bad, bad things happened. ‘What goes around comes around’ may or may not be precisely true and absolutely equal, but the fact of the matter is you can’t go around doing bad things without some kind of relative karma. And that applies to what you do to yourself more than anything. And characters learn, a little. Sooner or later Miles realizes, wallowing in depression through wine makes you sad. Going on picnics with pretty ladies in sunshine (and drinking wine, but happy quantities) makes you feel better at the end of the day. Just don’t nestle the love with deceptive lies.

The ending *almost* brought me to tears. It was just a little reminder that this fellow was a struggling writer, and that he was good complex man. And he had to know that his writing was quality. I think it just reminded me a lot of a recent one-on-one chat I had with a recent English teacher at a recent graduation. You know how those things go. Hearing the ‘keep writing” line as the closer of this film was just a sweet little reminder. It’s good to have someone who believes in you live far away, I think. You have someone to impress, and that keeps you going. But they don’t piss you off, because you never see them. So you never stop working out of spite. Well, that’s how I function, and I assume Miles does the same way as well.

I love mid-life crises. It reminds me that you don’t stop dealing with stupid conflicting crap. This movie especially reminded me that adults, really, are stupid. I mean, I was already partially aware of that, but they make the same stupid mistakes and have the same witty-but-not-that-witty banter that teenagers have. I sometimes fear that I’ll grow out of these things, grow out of the things I do, like adolescent banter, throwing hissy fits and enjoying simple pleasures. And I love banter, I love hissy fits and believe me, I love a good cup of coffee and a scone on a big overstuffed couch. That will never loose it’s charm for me. As wine will never lose it’s charm for Miles. See the connection?

Anyway, I’d totally give this film a chance. I really can’t see why anyone would dislike it. It’s funny, but it has no cheap jokes. It’s a little depressing, but the end is uplifting without being cheesy. There’s even a slightly bloody fight scene, if carnage is your thing. I don’t see any chance of disliking.

P.S. I watched this from 4 AM to 6 AM, then I wrote the review. I still haven’t slept. So if the review has ‘insomnia’ written all over it, and it jumps from topic to topic like my eyes are darting back and forth on some crazed caffeine high… that’s why. Sorry.

Didja notice?

  • That I thought the cell phone ring that woke Miles up was my phone and I almost got up.
  • The cute little smile Miles did as he handed Maya his manuscript.
  • How intense wine-ing is.
  • The blatant metaphors.
  • That I haven’t slept in awhile.
  • The book that Miles’ student is reading in his English class is “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles.
  • ‘A Separate Peace’ is the worst book ever.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s