Oscar Movie Month: "Sideways" Review

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Rating: R

Length: 126 minutes

Release Date: January 21, 2005

Directed by: Alexander Payne

Genre: Comedy / Drama / Romance


Some flicks may rely on over-the-top marketing campaigns, flashy effects and flashier actors to gain the attention of viewers, but "Sideways" engages audiences in a different way. Featuring great acting and a fascinating story, this film includes everything necessary to become a beloved classic. Miles is a depressed English teacher and writer, and Jack is a small-time actor about to be married. Together, the two friends set out to explore California's wine country. "Sideways" includes some heart-warming moments and plenty of hilarious situations, and the whole journey is perfectly satisfying.

Middle school English teacher Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is unsuccessful in his writing career. Disillusioned by his mid-life failures, Miles decides to combine his love of wine with great company when he invites his college roommate Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) to tour California's wine country with him before Jack gets married. Jack, a second-rate television actor, wants nothing more than to have one last fling before committing to his wife. The two feel like teenagers again as they embark on their road trip.

Miles and Jack soon encounter Maya (Virginia Madsen), a down-to-earth waitress at Miles' favorite restaurant, The Hitching Post. They also meet Maya's friend Stephanie (Sandra Oh) who works at a local winery. They set up a double date, and Jack soon hits it off with Stephanie as the two begin having an affair. Meanwhile, Miles and Maya begin having heartfelt conversation, connecting on a deeper level. When Miles accidentally spills the beans to Maya about Jack's engagement, Maya pushes Miles away and gives the news to Stephanie, who proceeds to break Jack's nose.

When Miles finds out that his most recent manuscript has been rejected, he becomes depressed again. Jack, on the other hand, doesn't hesitate to find another woman to woo. While spending time at the house of his new lover Cammi (Missy Doty), he must escape quickly when her husband returns home without notice. Miles and Jack continue to have several more misadventures, exploring wine country while discovering more about themselves in the process. Jack must make peace with settling down, and Miles must accept his life as a second-rate writer. However, a surprise is in store for Miles in the end.

"Sideways" is a lighthearted comedy on the surface, but it explores the deeper themes of failed aspirations and self-acceptance. The entire movie centers on the idea of the mid-life crisis, and the two main characters are the perfect candidates. While Miles experiences his crisis through depression and an attempt of self-redemption, Jack experiences his through denial and an attempt to re-live his youth. In the end, Miles realizes he must accept the inevitable, but he also realizes that this does not mean sacrificing happiness.

Alexander Payne creates a unique film that combines drama, comedy and romance in a way that feels truly believable. The story and characters may at first seem far removed from the lives of viewers, but audiences soon discover that the flaws, features and depth of these characters are not different from their own. The colors and lighting of the film have a vintage quality, aiding the nostalgic atmosphere of the story, and the humor is both clever and edgy.

The acting in this film leaves nothing to be desired, further adding to the realistic feel of the film that draws viewers into the story. Paul Giamatti expresses every emotion of the depressed, lonely, frustrated Miles in a way that is both heartbreaking and completely human. His Oscar-worthy performance constantly grips the audience, drawing viewers to root for his character even when he makes some questionable decisions. Virginia Madsen also puts on an amazing performance as Maya, bringing out unexpected aspects of Miles' character and cheering him with her soulful attitude. Madsen's acting during emotional scenes is particularly engaging. Thomas Haden Church and the rest of the cast fill their respective roles well, creating fascinating characters that audiences love to watch.

Despite its many strengths, the film does have a few shortcomings. The characters, especially Jack, often do not garner the sympathy of viewers because they make bad decisions and have some unlikable qualities. However, it is important to note that these aspects also make them more human. The film also features a few situations that are less than believable. For instance, viewers find themselves baffled when they see the beautiful Maya pursuing the unattractive, depressed Miles who has little to offer. Despite these weaknesses, the film still manages to be thoroughly enjoyable.

"Sideways" was not a box office hit, but viewers find themselves dazzled by the high-quality work that has gone into this film. Featuring characters that remind audiences a little too much of themselves, "Sideways" is certainly a movie worth watching.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5