Directed by Alexander Payne
Fox Searchlight Pictures
(2004) 126 minutes
by Susan Starr and Kevin Kocur
“Sideways” is about two friends trying to figure out what to do with their lives as they approach middle age. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is depressed about how his life has turned out. He can’t get over his divorce and has written a novel that sounds so pretentious that it is unlikely to ever be published.Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) is Miles’ polar opposite. He is a happy-go-lucky guy who doesn’t care who he hurts, as long as his own needs are met. The movie follows Jack and Miles as they tour California wine country the week before Jack’s wedding.
Miles has an obsessive interest in wine, and Jack has an obsessive interest in sleeping with women. Jack hooks up with free-spirited Stephanie (Sandra Oh), and he encourages Miles to go after recently divorced Maya (Virginia Madsen).
The tentative relationship between Miles and Maya is very sweet. There is a lot of real humor in the relationships and situations in the movie. Everything in the movie, from the set design to the dialog, is like observing real life. There is a lot of talk about wine and it is used as a metaphor for life, but I got the feeling that at least part of the interest in wine was just an excuse to drink a lot of it. Certainly Miles is more than half drunk for a lot of the movie.
OK, I’ll admit it—I was really pretty lukewarm on “Sideways” the first time I saw it. Walking out of the theater, only two things stuck in my mine: “Hottie on a motorcycle” and “Mmmmm….wine.”
For me, “Sideways” got better with the second viewing, much like wine gets better with the second sip. Maybe I just had to let it breathe. While the film does plod along at times, there are some funny, funny scenes that had me reaching for the rewind button.
It’s obvious that I enjoyed the bits with Sandra Oh’s character, Stephanie, riding in and out of scenes on a Honda Rebel 250. I was impressed to learn that Oh learned to ride a motorcycle for this movie—and that she rode with a passenger that far outweighed her! Pretty impressive for a newbie. And I will let it slip that Oh’s character on Grey’s Anatomy also rides a motorcycle. I would like to personally invite Sandra to bring that 250 here for the Second Annual Minnesota 1000/MMM 250 Challenge.
My head was swimming with wine talk throughout the movie. Or maybe it was from the wine I was drinking. Either way, there’s a lot to take in. It was interesting to listen to the characters’ preference for certain wines, the reasoning behind them, and the parallels to life itself. While I did not always agree with them, at least I was starting to understand where they were coming from, even if some of the parallels are a bit lame.
Watching some of the driving scenes really made me want to jump on the bike and head for the West Coast. Or maybe I’d point ‘er east and head for the Finger Lakes Region of New York, where great roads and good wine can be found in abundance.
But for now, I’ll pour myself another glass and keep on typing. Tomorrow I will ride. Tomorrow night I may even drink Merlot.
**Trivia time! The film’s wine list; and there are many, many bottles featured, were selected by Alexander Payne himself (I don’t know about you, but I want to visit this dude’s house).
In the scene where Miles, Jack and Miles’ mother eat dinner at Miles’ mother’s house, all three actors got food poisoning from the food served.
The scenes in the fictitious winery, “Frass Canyon” were actually filmed at Fess Parker winery, which is owned by….Fess Parker—star of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.
Sales of Pinot Noir went up 20 percent after the movie’s release, while sales of Merlot dropped.