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USA 2004
Directed by
Alexander Payne
127 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bruce Paterson
4 stars


Synopsis: Miles (Paul Giamatti), a frustrated novelist, and his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a handsome washed-up actor, take a road trip through Californian wine country in the week before Jack's wedding.

"Citrus, passion fruit, just the faintest soupçon of asparagus, and, like, a nutty Edam cheese." Miles

Alexander Payne has said he doesn't like road movies. Ironically, this seems to make him well-disposed to make quirky ones, if Sideways and his previous film, About Schmidt, are anything to go by. Both films are about men on a journey and looking for meaning in their lives. Whilst the latter film had its good points and bad, Sideways is a much more consistently enjoyable experience, given its engaging performances, picturesque rural vistas, and ongoing disparagement of merlot.

Miles visibly slumps under the burdens of life (the divorce, the unpublishable book, the uninspiring job). The brief light on the horizon for him is taking his friend Jack on a week-long trip to the vineyards and golf courses of California. Unfortunately, apart from being college room-mates many years before, there is not much foundation to this friendship. Jack is determined to be dissolute, drunk and bedded before the week is out, and, as a good buddy does, hopes that Miles will be too. Before long, Jack is romancing vineyard worker Stephanie (Sandra Oh), and encouraging Miles to do the same with aspiring horticulturalist Maya (Virginia Madsen). Jack neglects to mention his impending wedding, and this convenient oversight duly produces, at least, for us the audience, hearty laughter when the inevitable exposure occurs.

The substance to this comedy, based on a novel by Rex Pickett which one feels is responsible for a good deal of the film's success, is the recovery of both Miles and Maya from life's disappointments. Miles is an unlikely romantic hero. He has his foibles, including a tendency to 'drink and dial', leading to unfortunate conversations with his ex-wife as well as a disposition to "the dark side". The recently-divorced Maya is recovering from a dishonest marriage and is cautious about further involvement with a man. Miles has his work cut out for him but we feel that he will eventually succeed in winning over Maya although Payne is not so glib as to give us any surety about this.

All in all, Sideways is a heart-felt romantic comedy whose plot unfolds more naturally than the standard multiplex join-the-dots offering. It's understated. It's real. It's a bit rough and ready. And it's well worth a look on the big or small screen.




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