“Sideways” is one big montage to all things grape! The film is an ode to the California wine country and two detestably enjoyable antiheroes, college buddies and parallel opposites, Miles and Jack. A tale of their adventures within the confines of wine fields, wine bottles, and many a full wine glass.
Directed by: Alexander Payne.
Written by: Rex Pickett (novel) and Alexander Payne (screenplay).
The cast includes: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh.
Tagline: “Sometimes life isn’t about what’s in the past or what’s to come, but rather, the sideways journeys in-between.”
Though perhaps difficult to detect at first glance, “Sideways” is the ultimate post-modern western, whereby the two heroes are replaced by antagonistic antiheroes and their noble steeds are substituted for the dependable, yet detestable, wreck that is their oxidized red convertible.
Antiheroes? Meet Miles, a tragically depressed, failed novelist whose neurotically compulsive behavior seems an uncanny match for his cavalier, nonchalant college roommate. Jack, the carefree flirt and debonair infomercial actor is well past his golden age. Friends they are, and friends they will remain, both before and after their unforgettable trip through California wine country the week prior to Jack’s wedding to Armenian heiress, Christine.
Hoping to send his friend out in style, Miles has big plans for Jack that include submersing him in the decadent culture of wine tasting and all its fine traditions, nuances, and… select wineries. Jack, the brash man with the palate of a two-year old, is hard-pressed to understand Miles’ meticulous inspection of the tasty spirits. In short, Miles sips and Jack guzzles his way through the valleys of inland California, sampling the best of Pinot, Cabernet, and Syrah; with never the mention of Merlot unless to pejoratively damn its incompetent standing.
Meanwhile, Jack has been concocting the ultimate Bachelor gift for his best friend Miles and he, the gift of carnal knowledge. Jack insists on an infidel affair that will be his final hurrah to his bachelor days of old. As Miles and Jack’s adventures help them cross paths with the fiery vineyard baron, Stephanie, it isn’t long before Jack has manifested multiple instances where he works all her angles. This simultaneously allows Miles to take his best shot at the lovely friend, wine virtuoso, Maya. But Miles’ discomfort with the latest news of his ex-wife’s remarriage has set him reeling. All the while Jack and Stephanie have evolved into a saucy relationship that is as fast as Jack and Miles’ unexpected trip. But shallow “I love yous” and empty promises of relocating and living with Stephanie and her daughter, have Miles shaking his head in disgust at the disloyal Jack, who still whole heartedly intends to marry Christine.
Determined to save his marriage, Jack enlists the help of the regretful Miles who, in a brief moment of courage, sneaks into a house and retrieves Jack’s ‘ill-placed’ wallet. Together the two set out to wreck Miles’ car to account for the narrative they need to construct to explain Jack’s newly broken nose.
A depressingly anti-climactic downfall progresses into depths of midlife crises, typical depression and self-loathing attune to the fine abilities of human nature. Though Jack and Miles return safely to their humble abodes in San Diego, Jack to marry the next day, Miles, to continue hating himself, and the depression for Miles sinks even lower still. This is all after news of his ex-wife’s recent pregnancy and his latest rejected novel, which allows him to hit rock bottom. The solution is opening his coveted 1961 Cheval Blanc and downing it in ample gulps alongside a greasy cheeseburger and fried onion rings. Can he ever pull himself out of the this funk and begin living, or, will the comforts of wine remain his only solace in life?
“Sideways” is an enjoyable film with acute attention to detail, not only with the cinematography and plot development, but also the aura of wine and its bouquets, colors and aromas. Jack and Miles are far from regal heroes, and come loaded with flaws and shortcomings that are wholly and shamelessly displayed for all of America to either judge, or simply delight in. Despite their pariah-like characters, it is as easy to love, as loathe, Jack and Miles for their faults that are garishly displayed in all their imperfect glory.
“Sideways” is a brutally honest film that unveils the true highs and lows of the common man, as well as their trials and tribulations to overcome everyday adversities.
Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, is the pathetic, meandering failed novelist whose desperate attitude and actions borderline comical, yet detestable.
Jack, played by Thomas Haden Church, the slap-stick, slow-witted, animalistic and cavalier actor whose main goal for the week’s trip is the sew his oats.
Maya, played by Virginia Madsen, the captivating wine-connoisseur and down-to-earth godsend that, for a brief moment, gives Miles something to live for.
Stephanie, played by Sandra Oh, the saucy vineyard employee who engages in a fiery-tempered, fast-moving affair with the lustful Jack.