Jul 12, 2014

Review: Sideways (2004)

In terms of directors/writers, there are very few who are as reliable as Alexander Payne. He doesn't have a huge body of work but this allows him to really focus on the quality of his work instead of cranking out films as fast as possible. He's balanced his credits with a couple of headscratchers like writing the screenplays for Jurassic Park III and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Presumably this is to get studios to allow him to work on his own personal projects with a good amount of freedom.

Alexander Payne has pretty much proven himself already with Election and About Schmidt but Sideways represents the coming out party for Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Both went on to find quite a bit of mainstream success following Sideways. The same applies for Sandra Oh who got into Grey's Anatomy afterwards. All the actors of Sideways deservedly got some awards recognition for their acting.


Genre: comedy, drama, romance
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Produced by: Michael London
Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Music by: Rolfe Kent
Running time: 127 minutes
Production company: Michael London Productions, Sideways Productions Inc.
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $16,000,000
Box office: $109,706,931 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Jessica Hecht, Missy Doty, M.C. Gainey, Alysia Reiner, Shake Tukhmanyan, Shaun Duke, Robert Covarrubias, Patrick Gallagher




Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is an English teacher who recently got through a tough divorce. He's written a novel that he's been trying to publish without much success and it's pretty his last chance. He's a huge wine aficionado but he currently struggles mightily with depression. His best friend Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) is going to be getting married and the two plan a trip through California to visit wineries, eat at different restaurants and go golfing. At least that's what Miles has in mind. Jack really intends to have one last fling before settling down into domestic life.



The great thing about Sideways is that it combines comedy and drama so well together, pretty much like the perfect meal with an accompanying wine. Comedic moments or just the slice-of-life moments that Alexander Payne has created are so comfortably natural and will slip into a bit of drama without going overboard or drastically changing tone. It's very gentle but apparent right away when the tone changes.

The wine culture that Payne has made a huge part of the story in Sideways seems very well researched and could make anyone into a fan of wine. Originally when Sideways was released, it actually had an impact on the sales of Pinot noir wines which grew while the sales of Merlot dropped slightly. This is all due to Miles being a lover of Pinot and a huge critic of Merlot so it's pretty crazy just how much of an impact this movie had.

The romance in Sideways is really well handled and at the same time feels real. And when there's a romantic crisis of sorts? Well it's not a dumb, made-up, miscommunication kind of problem. It's natural and it's what you'd expect to happen in that kind of situation. All of the principal actors play their parts with conviction and I'm especially impressed with what Paul Giamatti is able to pull off. It's true that he had a great performance in American Splendor but he's still a long way from being in Big Momma's House and Big Fat Liar.

Sideways is a beautiful, dysfunctional road movie that features real people with real problems. Alexander Payne fills the movie with beautiful and varied shots of California scenery. The wine culture segments are totally charming and made me wish that I had a glass of wine to do all that silly swishing and smelling of wine that Miles and Jack do. Everything is just absolutely gorgeous and the film benefits from some wonderful performances.




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