Sideways Review

by Homer Yen (homer_yen AT yahoo DOT com)
February 9th, 2005

"Sideways" Moves Amiably Along
by Homer Yen
(c) 2004

What's in a name? It's a question that I've heard many-a-time. And in this case it means everything. The aptly named "Sideways" is a comedic look at a depressed person (Paul Giamatti) who can never quite get anything into the correct gear. He's a frumpy English teacher whose marriage has failed. His soul-bearing novel entitled "The Day after Yesterday" can not find a publisher. His days do show promise of better things ahead, but he convinces himself too easily to abandon hope. His growth neither moves forward or backwards. He is simply moving sideways as if to take himself out of the road of life.

Our hero is even more aptly named Miles (Giamatti). When he does take an interest in something, he takes the excruciatingly long way around which frequently causes him to have to travel miles that is if he doesn't run into a dead end first. The only thing that he knows well is wine. His knowledge borders on the obsessive and the absurd.

His one bright spot is the road trip into the California wine country that he has planned for him and his best friend since college, Jack (Thomas Haden Church). Jack is about to get married in one week, so this is Miles' gift to him as sort of his last hurrah. Miles hope to sample some great wine. Jack, a bit more adventurous and peaking with middle-aged handsomeness, is looking to feed his lust.

"Sideways" is an amiable buddy movie as these two best friends share an amazing experience together as all best friends should share. They enter territories that always suit one more than the other. Miles is an obvious connoisseur of fine wine and gives us numerous examples of how to distinguish good wine from the merely quaffable. Jack sets up a double date for the both of them in a situation in which Miles is reduced to a quivering mass of self-pity.
It is funny and poignant. And, the effect is especially engaging when the film enters the its best scene in which Miles eyes his long-time object of affection, Mya (Virginia Madsen). He nervously talks about the fragility of pinot grapes, and Mya instantly knows that he is talking about himself and falls in love with him because he is capable of exposing his inner self but will never admit it. Her response is so poetic and thoughtful that it should earn her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

In addition to his ability to explain why pinot noir is a white wine, Miles is a likeable everyman. The film also benefits from an air of sophistication. The men are introspective. The women are intelligent. They have interesting things to say and we would find them amusing if we were in the room eavesdropping on their conversation. And, the visits to all of the wineries make for an educational travelogue. "Sideways" is a film that is able to provide consistent grins.

Grade: B

S: 3 out of 3
L: 3 out of 3
V: 1 out of 3

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