Home | Reviews | Exclusive Writings | Great Links | Miscellaneous | FAQ | Contact Us

Sideways /

Rated: R

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh, Virginia Madsen, Marylouise Burke

Directed by: Alexander Payne

Produced by: Michael London, Jay Cohen
Written by:
Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures


Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church in Fox Searchlight's Sideways
Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen in Fox Searchlight's Sideways
Sandra Oh and Thomas Haden Church in Fox Searchlight's Sideways

     Paul Giamatti seems to be the master of nuance, laying his own special touch on everything from independent biopics about manic-depressive underground comic book artists to big-budget, Ben-Affleck-positive action flicks. In his latest project, Sideways, he welcomingly tampers with the reserved, complex world of an all-too-avid wine-taster named Miles Raymond, who sets out on a road trip with his about-to-be-married best friend. Miles is not the type of person that anyone would want to idolize, but everyone will be able to relate to. Whether it be the way he masks his emotions and then finally explodes out of wilted patience, the way he talks about himself, or his little ticks, all audience members are bound to develop an empathetic relationship with Miles, purely because of the grounds in which they can identify with him on.

     Unfortunately, director/co-writer Alexander Payne, who is, without question, some kind of bizarre genius, leaves some artistic cracks in Sideways’ foundation for Giamatti and his surroundings to stumble over. Payne is incredibly gifted and is fully capable of making his masterpiece some day, but in crafting this picture, he drastically underestimated himself. He and his co-writer, Jim Taylor, birthed a usually incredible script and had an amazingly gifted leading actor on their sides, in creating their film, leaving it full of poignant emotional resonance that has the unquestionable ability to touch audiences. Not realizing the power of his own material, in the first place, Payne plugged in some gawkily metaphorical sentiments from the characters, along the way, which often spoil the moments that they embody.

     Miles and his confused womanizer of a friend, named Jack (Thomas Haden Church), have alcohol in mind as they travel up and down California’s wine-country on their pre-wedding journey. Of course, Miles never verbally admits that drunkenness is something desirable for him at any point in the movie; the taste of a good Pinot is all he ever seems to constitute as gratifying. This is not to say, however, that there are not times when he does become inebriated, or at least wishes he was. Most of these take place after he is convinced by Jack to hook up with a waitress named Maya (Virginia Madsen), who works at one of their frequented vacation-restaurants, called The Hitching Post. At the same time, Jack has his engaged sites set on Stephanie (Sandra Oh), who knows nothing of Jack’s fiancé during their numerous sessions of intercourse.

     Most strongly exemplifying my point of Payne’s need to add straightforwardness to Sideways, as a result of his apparent lack of self-confidence, is a scene in which Miles and Maya sit on Sandra’s porch, as she and Jack take to the bedroom, inside. Mind you, the two are drunk (and still sipping), but the obviousness of this easily changeable scene was overbearing for me, as I watched. Miles discusses a good wine with Maya, and the parallels that Payne is violently scribbling to marriage are so forced, it feels as if he is prying them from his protagonist’s mouth. Any intelligent viewer will have already seen the same metaphor by then, because the director shows it to them. Simply leaving Jack’s attitudes towards drinking and marriage in each viewer’s path of visibility, which Payne did, was enough to secure the impression that the analogy would make on audiences. Why assign Miles the position of middle-man and insult his intelligence by having him recite such lucidity?

     In essence, both Miles and Jack are trapped within the confines of their comfort zones, which do not exactly permit for good things. Sideways is not only a simple study of the addictions that humans have, whether they be in the form of alcohol, sex, spontaneity, or something that may actually merit permanent reward, but the way in which they affect the outcome of everything we, and others, take part in. Do the characters grow and learn throughout the story? I would certainly like to think so, but maybe that’s just empathy and optimism speaking. Whether Payne now realizes the genius of certain passages of Sideways is a mystery to me. I just want him to cut it with the glaring metaphors!

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (11.13.2004)

Back to Home
The Bucket Review's Rating Scale