Sideways Review

by Susan Granger (ssg722 AT aol DOT com)
December 6th, 2004

Susan Granger's review of "Sideways" (Fox Searchlight Films)
    As a critic, I usually see films before they're released but, in this case, I missed the opening date and, therefore, like you, heard nothing but praise for this dark comedy about two losers who go on a wine-tasting trip in California's Santa Ynez Valley. It's good but it's not THAT good.
    Miles (Paul Giamatti of "American Splendor") is a pessimistic, depressed wine connoisseur and failed novelist who takes his college roommate-turned-actor Jack (Thomas Hayden Church of TV's "Wings") on a week's vacation before Jack's upcoming wedding. While Miles downs glass after glass of pinot noir, ruminating on how difficult it is to grow that grape, Jack's busy hustling Stephanie (Sandra Oh), the wine pourer, for a pre-nuptial fling. He even convinces sad sack Miles to try his luck with Maya (Virginia Madsen), a sympathetic, wine-savvy waitress.
    Predictably, imbecilic Jack pops his cork on this pastoral misadventure and gets into trouble. Equally predictably, Miles comes to the rescue while saving himself from a mid-life crisis.
    Adapted by director Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (who previously collaborated on "About Schmidt"), from the book by Rex Pickett, its subtext is about fading youth and failed potential, which is as depressing as a holiday film can get, despite its poignant conclusion.
    What's amazing are the ensemble performances. Son of the late Bartlett Giamatti (president of Yale University and commissioner of Major League Baseball), Paul Giamatti neither looks nor sounds like the usual movie star, yet he's a consummate actor, as are Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Sideways" is a sweetly melancholy 7. It's has the insightful spirit of a grape escape.

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