I’ve wanted to see Sideways since Jenn and I caught the preview many months ago. Not in the same way I want to see Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, Sin City or Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. This movie had nothing to do with fanboy glee or special effects glitz, this movie was about good, old-fashioned acting. Also Oscar buzz, which cannot be denied, and wine. I’m always up for a buddy movie that involves drinking.
Sideways, based on the novel by Rex Pickett, is really a simple story about old friends spending time together before one of them gets married. Paul Giamatti plays the long-suffering best friend Miles Raymond to Thomas Haden Church’s soon-to-be-married actor, Jack. Giamatti is the “schlub” divorcee stuck teaching middle-school English while shopping his novel and Jack is the never-settle-down Hollywood type about to settle down. They begin the film by going to wine country for a week of grapes and golf before Jack’s nuptials.
Giamatti is at his “pig vomit” best here. I’ve loved him since seeing him in Howard Stern’s Private Parts as the weasely station manager and he doesn’t disappoint here. He is a man every bit as complex and temperamental as the Pinot Noir grapes he so cherishes. The film’s best scene involves him and Maya, played by Virginia Madsen intimately discussing their specific loves of wine while Jack parties hard with local-girl Stephanie, sowing the last (?) of his wild, bachelor oats.
Maya: You know, can I ask you a personal question, Miles?
Miles Raymond: Sure.
Maya: Why are you so in to Pinot?
Miles Raymond: [laughs softly]
Maya: I mean, it’s like a thing with you.
Miles Raymond: [continues laughing softly]
Miles Raymond: Uh, I don’t know, I don’t know. Um, it’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It’s uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.
This is a complex film about people who are in transition. Stephanie is trying to be a single Mom. Miles and Maya are both recently divorced. Jack isn’t ready to be married. But for a few short days in California’s wine country they get swept away, turned sideways, by the beauty of the place, the romance on wine-making and the joy of new, intriguing friendships.
But this isn’t an easy film. Miles can’t let go of his past and believe in his novel or his new romance. Maya is equally gaurded about future loves. Jack won’t let himself settle down and Stephanie gets badly burned by Jack.
How does it all end? Like Miles’ novel, there isn’t a tidy ending. We’re left wondering exactly how all the characters end up and that’s a good thing. This movie is about the journey and about the dizzying highs and terrible lows that life can entail. Again, it’s a film about people as complex as the Pinot Noir grape.
This movie works because these actors played real people. Complex people. Three-dimensional people. Characters that required these actors to be better than their previous work would indicate.
See this movie with someone you love so you can discuss all the things that make your life and love so complex. Cherish that moment. Then go drink some Pinot Noir.