Can a movie about two middle-aged men on a wine tasting tour through California’s wine country be interesting? Yes, it most certainly can. In fact, “Sideways” is not only interesting, but it is also truly superb in every aspect of filmmaking. It is one of those unique films that can successfully cross boundaries, ultimately appealing to just about everyone who sees it.
The film follows two men, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Hayden Church), as they take one last road trip before Jack’s wedding. Miles, an eighth grade teacher, dreams of being a novelist, and Jack, an actor best known for his voice on commercials, is looking to have some fun before he gets married. The pair travels through California’s wine country, making stops for wine tasting. Along the way, they hook up with another pair of friends, Maya (Virginia Madsen) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh). Relationships form and soon the audience understands just as much about the characters as they do about the wines they drink.
The film is skillfully acted all around. Giamatti gives a perfectly nuanced and natural portrayal of Miles, the divorced middle-aged xenophile, and Church is clearly a comically gifted actor. Director Alexander Payne (“Citizen Ruth,” “Election,” “About Schmidt”) again proves his deft ability at directing films that capture the natural insights found in everyday life.
“Sideways” is the type of movie that makes you smile even when it’s not funny. I found myself smiling at even the sadder moments because I was genuinely touched. There is magic in every scene, especially when Maya explains to Miles the reasons she loves wine, explaining the wonder of its evolution and peak.
The film does incorporate many clich?s, and where that would pull down many films, it only elevates this one. The clich?s all seem somewhat necessary as they are followed by moments of great insight or unique humor. In this sense, the film remains essentially flawless.
The film has already won numerous critic awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy. It is nominated for five major Academy Award categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Giamatti (who some say the Academy snubbed in 2003 for his work in “American Splendor”) is a notable omission from that list.
See “Sideways” in the movie theater – it will be a real treat. I saw it amidst a packed audience and loved every minute. The audience rallied around the film and even stayed all the way through the credits. “Sideways” does what good movies intend to do and great ones carry out – it transports you into a different world, one in which you cannot help but smile from the sheer joy of belonging to it. If you miss the film in the theatre, do not let it get away. Rent it. Buy it. Then hunker down with a good bottle of wine and enjoy every minute watching it.