Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Went to go see Sideways last night, which is making everyone's best of list this year. So I was pretty excited to see what all the fuss was about.
Which makes this a difficult review to write. It has been universally lauded by critics across the country; yet, it didn't really do it for me. How do I give an honest opinion and not sound like an uncouth movie goer? How do I keep my street cred? How much do I even care about that stuff?
First, I'll start with the positives: it is a well-written, smart film that features incredibly good acting performances in a setting I haven't seen before on film, with some truly funny moments, and a fairly original concept (although, I liked the movie better the last time I saw it, when it was called Swingers).
The movie starts as a high-minded buddy road movie following Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) up to California wine country for a week long Bachelor party for Jack. Miles is a depressed wine connoisseur who teaches eighth grade English and is a failed writer part-time. He's in the typical mid-life crisis stage, which is heightened by his divorce two years previous. Jack, his soon-to-be married, fun loving actor-friend, is determined to snap Miles out of his funk by getting him laid, but Miles is too hung up on his ex to move forward. Sound familiar?
What Sideways lacks that Swingers had in spades is heart. There is no heart in this movie. Only sadness. Both Miles and Jack are self-involved losers with few redeeming qualities as human beings. Jack is the worse of the two, as Miles is quick to point out (he is "not Jack"), but Miles does enough despicable things on his own to eliminate himself from the realm of sympathetic characters, not the least of which is drink himself silly every night. That his alcoholism involves wine, and his appreciation of it goes into greater depth than your average hooch-fiend is supposed to make him more civilised. It does not, and I think the movie gets that about him. It's not that Sideways tries to present Miles as sympathetic and fails, it's that the characters are so flawed and unlikeable that it was hard to care what happened to them.
Miles has a love interest in the film, played well by Virginia Madsen, but it's hard to care if he makes it happen with her. Almost as hard as it is to imagine that an average-looking, down on his luck, sad sack individual like Miles could get an intelligent, attractive woman like Maya to be interested in him in the first place. It's a conceit that we've grown to expect from movies, but it was still a tough bit to swallow.
I just can't identify with anything in this movie, and thus could not get into it at all. It drags quite a bit at times, and its oppressive depressive nature makes some of the genuinely funny moments of the film feel out of place. Not so out of place that you don't laugh, they're that funny, but it still feels kind of odd. I think one of the reasons that this film has gotten such rave reviews is that reviewers can easily see themselves in Miles shoes, as sad, tired, broken men who fail to produce anything creative. Have you ever noticed how many movies featuring loser protagonists are beloved by critics? There's something to that you know.
Ultimately, despite it's brilliant acting and funny moments, this is a sad little movie about sad little people that I couldn't get into at all. And I like what that says about me. It wasn't bad, but I didn't really like it either.