When I started to hear the buzz about Sideways a couple of months ago, I was excited. It was directed by Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt), and reviewers just loved it and it was a great film. I loved Payne’s previous movies, so I had high expectations for this one. Well, I liked Sideways well enough, but I just didn’t love it.
Sideways tells the story of Miles (Paul Giamatti), a writer and teacher who has hit an unlucky streak; his novel cannot get sold, he is recently divorced, and lives in a dreary apartment. That doesn’t stop him from deciding to give his best friend/actor Jack (Thomas Haden Church) a wedding present: a week touring wineries before Jack gets married. They go off on their adventure, and at a restaurant, they meet up with an acquaintance of Miles named Maya (Virginia Madsen). Then Maya introduces a friend of hers (Sandra Oh) to them. Jack falls for Oh’s character, while Miles starts a slow, shy courtship with Maya. But Miles knows he’s hearing the ticking minutes go by to get Jack back for his wedding, and for Miles, time is running out for him to get over his past grief and start over again.
Sideways has its faults, but they can’t be found in the acting. Paul Giamatti who has recently become a lead actor after doing character roles (Man on the Moon, American Splendor) gives a fantastic performance as Miles, a man who can drink wine and go on and on about the grape, yet when he is with Maya he fumbles for words, trying to ask her out. Giamatti shows the character with true shyness, as a man who has been hurt many times and is trying to stand up again.
Haden Church gives a breakthrough performance as Jack. Best known as dopey Lowell on the television show Wings, Haden Church gives us a character that is incredibly unlikeable, yet when he recites dialog from a commercial or a soap opera, he is charming, and the viewer can see why women fall for him. Haden Church makes Jack smarmy, but pleasant at the same time. Madsen and Oh give fantastic performances as their love interests; Madsen has a wonderful monologue about wine that delivered her an Oscar nomination. Oh, underrated in many of her movie roles (Under the Tuscan Sun) tells the story of a woman who falls for Jack, while the viewer hurts for her because the relationship is doomed from the start.
My problem with Sideways is that I sat there in the theater thinking: “Okay, let it be great. Let me love it.” But I couldn’t. Maybe it was because the lead characters were so unsympathetic. Maybe it’s my own personal bias of knowing that watching people drinking too much is not my idea of fun. Maybe it was when Miles would go on and on about how the wine was made and I’d think: “Okay! You said that exact thing five minutes ago! We know how wine is made! We know you hate Merlot! Move on!” Maybe it’s because I couldn’t believe that these two men could make mistakes over and over again, and then are surprised that they get caught. Or maybe because I read the novel it was based on by Rex Pickett, so I knew what was going to happen. Or maybe it was the case that I just wanted to love it like the reviewers did, but I just couldn’t.
I do recommend Sideways for the great acting and the beautiful scenery of the southern California vineyards; plus it was nominated for several Oscars and won for Best Adapted Screenplay. And who knows? Maybe you will be one of those people who loved it. But for me, it just wasn’t there.