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.
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)