Wine Oh Goes to Church
If I was to tell you that "Sideways" is a road trip movie would you start to have preconceptions of what it would be like, comedy cliches of car break downs, run ins with trouble and so on. Well on one hand you would sort of be right because there is a car issue and a run in with a very angry man, but these cliches are not what the movie is about. Instead director Alexander Payne takes the situation of two buddies going on a week long road trip around the Californian vineyards and turns it into a character study which is a blend of comedy and drama. And as such "Sideways" is one of those movies where if you are expecting mainstream humour and ideas you are going to be disappointed even a little bored because this is all about the dysfunctional characters.
With a week to go before his wedding Jack (Thomas Haden Church - 3000 Miles to Graceland), a struggling actor, and Miles (Paul Giamatti - Man on the Moon), an equally struggling author, take a road trip around the Californian vineyards with a plan to mix wine tasting with playing golf. Well that's Miles's plan as he is a wine connoisseur but Jack has other plans and wants to use the week as a final hoorah and to get his end away with anything in a skirt before he settles down. It's Jacks raging libido which leads to him trying it on with a vineyard worker called Stephanie (Sandra Oh - Under the Tuscan Sun) whilst he tries to set Miles up with the attractive Maya (Virginia Madsen).
Like Alexander Payne's previous movies "Sideways" is not what I would call mainstream, it takes some mainstream conceptions such as the buddy set up and road trip but uses them in a different way to what you may expect. It does mean that unless you are prepared for something a little different "Sideways" can end up both strange and a little dull as it focuses on the characters rather than what happens. Having said that plenty happens to Jack and Miles especially when it comes to Jack getting his end away with anything in a skirt and it is full of darkly funny scenes which you feel you shouldn't be laughing at but can't help it, well you can't but help laugh when a naked fat bloke chases after Jack and Miles with more than just his stomach jiggling as he runs.
But "Sideways" isn't really about what happens to Jack and Miles but rather looking at their characters from Miles being depressed as a struggling author to Jack's need to try it on with anything in a skirt. And it has to be said that Alexander Payne does a magnificent job of this because neither Jack nor Miles are that nice yet he gets us siding with them. Despite going along with Jacks lies and his ability to steal money from his own mother you end up feeling for Miles especially when he shows a real fondness for Maya, the one ray of light in his very depressed world. He maybe a total wine snob who's ability to bore as he savours a wine borders on the obsessive but he ends up surprisingly likeable. And strangely whilst Jack is willing to lie just to get into bed with a woman we end up quite liking him too, not because he feels guilt for what he does but because deep down Miles is his best friend and whilst often misjudged does want him to be a happy. Of course all of this character exploration is done in a sometimes quirky often darkly funny way so that it doesn't feel to heavy.
Whilst Alexander Payne deserves a lot of credit for "Sideways" being so good so do the actors. Paul Giamatti is spot on as Miles, quirky but believable as someone who feels that life constantly kicks them in the nuts and he works so well with Thomas Haden Church who as Jack is very believable as someone reaching middle age and is desperate to sow his oats before it's too late. Giamatti and Church are not alone as Sandra Oh is just as good as Stephanie and Virginia Madsen not only looks stunning as Maya nut she also creates this centred character that is just perfect for Miles. What is also very nice about these characters is that it is a switch on the traditional as Stephanie and Maya are the mature, clever ones whilst Miles and Jack are fools still clinging on to their pasts and failed dreams.
What this all boils down to is that "Sideways" is a wonderfully entertaining movie which whilst being both a buddy and a road trip movie is less about the events and more about the characters. It does means that "Sideways" feels very different to what you may expect as it digs beneath the surface of Miles and Jack and for those expecting mainly cliche comedy it will feel weird and maybe a little dull. But for those with an open mind who like things which are a little different and deeper to the norm "Sideways" will entertain.