After my brother Tom’s high recommendation and recent news articles that said the movie Sideways had picked up the most Golden Globe nomination this year I figured it was past time for me to see this movie.
Having seen more arts movies than blockbusters recently I have found I have a craving for movies that tell simple human stories. Special effects don’t wow me anymore. I prefer good acting and an engaging story line. With the buzz picking up on Sideways I was anxious to see if this would be 2004’s sleeper hit, much like My Big Fat Greek Wedding was in 2002. Like the fine bottles of wine around which much of the movie pivots, this movie may take a little more aging before we know for sure.
The story involves two middle-aged guys spending a week together touring Napa Valley. Twenty years earlier they shared a dorm room for a year but it was clear their relationship never got much beyond first base. Miles (Paul Giamatti) plays a rather ordinary southern Californian. In other words he is divorced, trying but not quite succeeding in selling his great novel and making ends meet teaching English. When not popping antidepressants and fretting over his ex-wife he occupies his time being a wine snob. His former college roommate Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is within a week of getting married and feeling frisky. Two people less likely to be friends have not been seen since The Odd Couple. Miles is introverted, bookish, and frequently peevish but obviously still hurting over his divorce. Jack is an actor who doesn’t act much and who used to have a part in a soap opera but is now way past his prime. Jack is also someone who clearly may have graduated high school but mentally never quite made it out of adolescence. Miles and Jack have hardly finished their first tasting at a winery before Jack is checking out the women and desperately figuring out how to get into some woman’s pants before he ties the knot.
Miles is too wounded and still in love with his ex-wife. He is also more than a little appalled by Jack’s behavior, which grows increasingly juvenile as the movie progresses. Eventually Jack’s antics get them involved with two women. Jack becomes obsessed with a tart he picks up at a winery, while Miles avoids moving too quickly into a relationship with Maya, a lovely blond who works at a local bar who shares his deep passion for wine.
I won’t give away more of the plot. The movie careens between romance, comedy and the eccentricities of odd people. Being Californian I guess Miles and Jack only seem eccentric to us in the other 49 states. The most passionate part of the movie probably comes when Miles and Maya talk about wine. I can enjoy a glass of wine but I can’t begin to distinguish a quality wine from a cheap one. If nothing else the movie made me appreciate wine in its many subtle aspects.
The movie is fun and a pleasant way to kill a couple hours. It is oddly touching at times. But I confess I don’t quite understand why it is garnering so many positive reviews. I particularly enjoyed the acting of Paul Giamatti as Miles, perhaps because I see so many things in him that remind me of myself. Chances are you will enjoy this movie more than I did, and I did enjoy it. It gets a solid three out of four stars from me but nothing more.
Please leave a comment telling me why you liked or did not like the movie. I’m wondering if I am missing something.