Retro Review: Sideways

There seems to be a lot of similarities to “Lost in Translation” in “Sideways”. Or maybe it’s just the wine.

American Splendor’s Paul Giamatti stars as Miles Raymond, a struggling writer who takes Jack (Thomas Haden Church) his soon-to-be-married best friend on a tour of the California wine country a week before his wedding.

The duo drink elegant wines, eat delicious food and visit with the locals including Maya (Virginia Madsen), a woman Miles really connects with.

A seemingly perfect week for Miles falls apart when Jack falls in love with Stephanie, a local winery clerk (Sandra Oh) and wants to call off his wedding. Now Miles has to stop his friend from making a huge mistake as he watches the world around him come crashing down.

There are a lot of similarities between Giamatti’s Miles and Bill Murray in “Lost in Translation” except Giamatti seems to be more approachable when playing this kind of character. The reason being is that the film first shows us how much Miles likes where he is and that he is in his own element. Miles is a wine geek and California wine country is a wine geek’s Mecca. Then Miles seems to self destruct when he finds out all Jack wants to do is have lots of sex and party before his impending nuptials.

Giamatti’s portrayal of Miles is brilliant and it once more shows why the actor is so underrated in films today. I liked how the script allowed for a slow destruction of Miles as we learned more about him and the wines he loves.

The best scene involving Giamatti’s Miles is when the character ends up at a busy posh winery flooded with tourists and his self-destruction becomes complete as he gargles the wine-tasting spittoon in rebellion that the winery won’t pour him a full glass of wine. It is a riotous scene and it is the perfect example of Giamatti’s brilliance in the character.

There were a lot of moments in the film that made me ponder if the filmmakers were making a wine brochure or a deconstruction of Miles.

There are some scenes where the film soft scans a lot of wine labels as the characters drink, cheer and gasp in awe. If you aren’t a wine geek these scenes seem tedious and have little impact. I still don’t know what is so great about a pinot but I would like to find out. Does that help?

I was also quite impressed with the performance of television veteran, Thomas Haden Church, best known as Lowell on Wings, as the obnoxious groom. Church brings a lot of the comedic timing and acting zeal he honed in both “Wings” and the much beloved but short-lived sitcom “Ned & Stacey”. His performance is utterly obnoxious, but it is a perfect compliment to the very moody Miles.

“Sideways” is a film that is sure to electrify all the wine geeks out there but it may be lost on the casual viewer. It is headlined by two great performances but the film’s pace and length seem to suck out a lot of the film’s life.

3.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: Sideways

  1. Maybe I’m a sucker for the little things, but my favorite scene, my absolute favorite scene in the whole movie is one where Maya’s driving Miles back from Stephanie’s house, and he looks at her for about 5 seconds. It’s such a little throwaway moment, but Giamatti communicates everything we need to know about what Miles feels for Maya with his eyes.

    There are scads of moments like these, most of them belonging to Madsen or Giamatti, and they make me love “Sideways” beyond its sometimes plodding pace and unevenness.

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