‘Sideways’ Review: Midlife Wine and Dine

Posted in Screening Room by - January 25, 2015

It’s not very often that I can relate to a movie as much as I did to Sideways, which is a good thing I guess as I’m not sure how much I’d have in common with someone like say, Chewbacca. However, both Thomas Hayden Church and Paul Giamatti’s characters in the film are at times both extremely unlikable and at others, so sympathetic that I couldn’t help but relate to them. Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne, follows Miles (Giamatti) and Jack (Church) as they take a trip to the California wine country before Jack’s wedding. On the surface it’s a buddy dramedy about two guys past their prime looking to recapture their youth if even for a week, but it turns out to be more than that.

Church and Giamatti are the reason Sideways works so well due to their chemistry not only being believable but the best part of the film. Giamatti’s Miles is a clinically depressed unpublished divorced author with a deep knowledge of wine which masks his alcoholism. Church’s Jack is a care-free soap opera actor past his prime who has resorted to doing voice-over work for television advertising. Their two distinct personalities shine through with Jack trying to get Miles out of his depressed funk and Miles resisting because he still can’t get over his wife leaving him. Jack tries his hardest to get Miles to move past it, trying to set him up with multiple women and just making him live a little, but to no avail. 

During their misadventures in the wine country, Miles and Jack meet Maya and Stephanie, played by Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh, who become their love interests for the week. Both of the women bring great performances to the film, not playing their characters as naive, unassuming but as strong assertive women who have no issue standing up to their male counterparts. Madsen and Oh, while not widely revered for their dramatic roles, are fantastic in this film and I found myself enjoying their performances more than I thought I would, primarily because I associate Oh with the awful Grey’s Anatomy. I was surprised and impressed by both of them.

The film benefits greatly because it is directed and co-adapted by Alexander Payne, who has gone on to direct The Descendants and the excellent Nebraska. Payne’s ability to direct and write sincere, genuine character interactions while balancing it with some humor is unparalleled. The characters in Sideways are wholly believable as real people and the way they interact with each other feels like the way people talk to one another, not just stilted dialogue. Granted, everything wraps up nicely at the end of the film, which is unrealistic unfortunately, the film still feels like it exists in our reality, not the movie world. 

Sideways is a great film and one of Payne’s best. The character interactions are on point and the plot is clever and smart without being in your face about it either. If you’re a fan of wine and buddy dramadies, then check out Sideways, you won’t be disappointed.

Final Say: Watch It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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