This weekend, my husband and I shared a nice bottle of Pinot Noir and finally got to see “Sideways” on pay-per-view. Nigel doesn’t care much for seeing films in theaters so if there’s anything I want to see, I have to wait until it’s released on DVD and available on satellite. The last film we saw in a theater was “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”
I was a bit skeptical about “Sideways.” I’ve been disappointed by these highly acclaimed artsy films before. “Fargo” didn’t seem to go anywhere. Maybe I just couldn’t get past how fake Frances MacDermod’s Minnesota accent sounded. “Lost in Translation?” Bill Murray goes to Japan, drinks a lot, hangs out with Scarlet Johannsen and goes out for a night of bad karaoke. That was worth a movie? "Finding Neverland" was disappointing as well. Now I adore Johnny Depp. I'd watch him read the phone book. The way this film dragged on, that might have been an improvement.
I can safely say “Sideways” lives up to its hype. As you’ve probably heard, it’s about the friendship between Miles (Paul Giamatti), a middle school teacher/struggling novelist and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), an out of work actor. They take off on a week’s vacation in the California wine country as a final fling for Jack before he settles down and gets married. They drink a lot of wine, they talk, they chase women and Jack manages to catch one.
Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot of action in this film. But the characters are so compelling that you really care about them and want to know what they do next. Miles is a really nice guy but he just can’t seem to get a break. He’s spent most of his adult life playing second fiddle to the handsome, charming Jack who craves attention and has to get the girl, no matter what the cost.
I believe the only character in the film who’s one dimensional is Jack’s fiancee and that’s intentional. All we know about her is that she’s a beautiful young woman from a wealthy Armenian family. That may be all Jack knows about her as well. Most likely, that’s all he needs to know.
As a writer, I found the scene where Miles calls his agent particularly gut-wrenching. He finds out that his book has been rejected by the last-chance low end publisher he'd pinned all his hopes on, and the agent tells him she’s running out of options as to where to submit it. “It’s a wonderful book but there’s just no market for it,” she says. We’ve all heard that before.
Church has played a lot of jerks. (Remember Ursala’s fiance in “George of the Jungle?” and Ned in the Fox comedy “Ned and Stacy?”) But Jack is not one of them. Although this character behaves despicably, he still evokes a feeling of sympathy. Like Miles, we find ourselves willing to clean up his messes and get him to the church on time.
I was still thinking about this film the next day, wondering what went on with these guys afterwards. Not many films have done that for me. So if you’re looking for a nice DVD to rent, get this one. Along with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir, of course.