Review: Sideways (2004)





Alexander Payne


Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor (Novel: Rex Pickett)


133 min.


Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh

MPAA Rating

R (For language, some strong sexual content and nudity)

Buy/Rent Movie



Source Material


A tour through California wine country deepens the friendship of two collegiate friends in Sideways.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a wine aficionado. He can sniff it and tell its heritage. Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is an actor. He can charm a woman for fun or pleasure. These two men, disparate as they are, became friends in college. Jack is about to get married and Miles believes they should get away for a weekend as his bachelor gift to Jack. Miles believes a good wine tasting trip would do them both good.

Jack, however, has other ideas. He wants to sleep around before he becomes hopelessly committed. Miles doesn’t particularly like him cheating around but endures because he doesn’t want to be alone. They meet two beautiful women friends. Maya (Virginia Madsen) is a waitress at one of Miles’ favorite restaurants. She’s been working there for years and he knows her and her family. Stephanie (Sandra Oh) works at an area winery where she helps tourists sample the vineyard’s wine.

There’s plenty of conflict and romance to go around. Sideways examines how the interpersonal relationships of three wine lovers (Maya, Miles and Stephanie) can be challenged by an outsider presence. Jack has little taste for wine other than as an ice breaker or a cause for inebriation. It’s his injection into the film that acts as the catalyst for every conflict. Jack isn’t solely to blame. Miles’ desire to keep Jack’s secrets causes just a few of the problems.

Giamatti’s careful neuroticism is tempered well against his fellow actors. It’s an understated performance, not flashy or flamboyant. Those qualities fall to former television actor Church ( Wings ). He’s a womanizing ass who doesn’t realize what he’s got until he goes a little too far. He performs well but goes over the top in a few scenes.

Madsen is as tempered as Giamatti but her character has very little to do. She has depth and charisma but the screenplay doesn’t give her enough development except as a love interest for the self-loathing Miles. Oh has even less to do but makes the most of her very short screen time.

Much of these faults could be attributed to the otherwise intelligent screenplay by director Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor. Based on a novel by Rex Pickett, Payne and Taylor’s adaptation is filled with great dialogue and tells the story with a humanistic touch.

The underdevelopment of some characters can be attributed to an overriding decision to caricaturize the subjects of the film. We find nothing but stereotypes attached to each character. This works to a small extent. It helps the audience more easily identify themselves in these characters. The problem is that even a few unique qualities for each character could have engendered the same generic understanding while creating more multi-dimensional individuals.

However, none of the script issues could be as aggravating compared to the laborious pace adopted by director Payne. The film drags on, much like life, to its conclusion but the film doesn’t quicken the way it should in some places and moves far too slowly in some others. There’s realism in tedium. We spend much of our lives waiting but filmmakers have to know when to push past temperance and get to the next point. This was the same issue that plagued Payne-Taylor’s previous film About Schmidt. Perhaps if Payne and Taylor could find a third partner to direct, their pictures would be so much more interesting and enjoyable.

Otherwise, Sideways is a rich film about simple relationships made difficult by their participants. The audience will find the characters physically shallow and emotionally complex simultaneously. It should keep the viewer entertained, but one must prepare for a long journey to traditional discovery.

Review Written

March 8, 2005

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