A week before his friend Jack is to be married, best man Miles and the prospective groom head off to wine country for a week of fun, relaxation and - of course - wine drinking. Miles is the oenophile and does his best to teach Jack a bit about the art of appreciating great wine. All Jack cares about is drinking and carousing, something he accomplishes when he meets the attractive Stephanie at one of the vineyards. Miles is something of a sad sack, a high school English teacher who is a failed writer at heart. He has yet to get over the fact that his wife has divorced him and that she has remarried and he now faces that nerve racking wait for word from a prospective publisher. Miles has an opportunity to start anew when he meets Stephanie's friend Maya but when he let's slip that Jack is about to be married any hope of a relationship seems to be lost.Written by
'Sideways' might be this year's acid test of whether you like good movies or not. It will be exciting over the next few weeks to see if the justifiably positive buzz surrounding this film and a good audience turnout (in San Francisco it was well attended, at least) will entice viewers. Without a teen audience it cannot be real blockbuster, but 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' drew out the 50-somethings and it wasn't even a very good movie!
The premise: two friends (Paul Giamatti as Miles, Thomas Haden Church as Jack) set off on a road-trip before Jack's wedding a week hence. Miles, a teacher with aspirations of publishing a novel and Jack, a veteran actor (but not exactly prospering) are resolved well, Jack is anyway to have some fun as they sample wine and play golf while heading up the California coast.
What ensues is that Jack, committed at a bachelor-party level ( Miles is still reeling from his divorce two years previous) has to prod his less-than-enthusiastic accomplice to lighten up. Meeting a likely pair of attractive female matches, things get more complex. What comes of Jack's misadventures and Miles' reluctant accompaniment is not only borderline hysterical but painfully closer to our own experience than might be comfortable.
Director Alexander Payne (he of the fabulous'Election') has really assembled all the necessities here. A great cast working with solid material rarely misses; here is proof. Paul Giamatti showing us his everyman acting chops in last year's 'American Splendor', is our James Gandolfino for 2004. Thomas Haden Church (his resume sports a long string of small screen and TV parts) is such a scene stealer that it will be a film-crime if we don't see him in some lead role in the near future.
The girls. Virginia Madsen (Miles' love interest Maya) and Sandra Oh (as Jack's fling thing Stephanie) turn in striking performances, with Ms. Oh showing us charming and vicious in equal measure; but in particular she epitomizes the date every man always wanted to have, showing an intangible sexuality not easily conveyed in film.
In an interview (http://www.darkhorizons.com/news04/sideways3.php) with Director Alexander Payne we hear an interesting comment about how typical 'art-house' fare might shake the industry:
'I want Sideways which has no movie stars in it, and a movie for which I had final cut, to make money, not just for my own career but for other film makers so that film makers and studios can point, if I didn't have stars to make money, Sideways didn't have a gun or a chase even though that made money, we have to be changing our cinema, little by little and have more human films. But the only way it's going to happen is there are examples they can point to, where they made money. It was just like that in the late 60's and 70's. Look, Easy Rider made money, The Graduate made money, Midnight Cowboy made money, and we should make more movies like those. That's what we need.'
It is indeed.
Rating: Four Stars.
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