Life begins at forty, or so
the greeting cards say. But let's face it, we all know that is a crock
of it. And, no, I don't want to hear some feel-good stories about
Grandma Moses or Colonel Sanders or Moms Mabley or even the recently
deceased Rodney Dangerfield as people who reached their greatest potential
in their later years. Those are the exception, not the rule. For
most of us, forty is a time of self-reflection, a time where you should have
reached most of your earlier life plans but usually haven't. A time
when you can't eat as much as you used to be able to and yet you still gain
more weight. A time when the type of people you have always been
attracted to are much more likely to call you Sir or Madame. A time
when a good night's sleep is as important as getting lucky. A time
when you realize that you are getting to be closer to death than you are to
Sideways is a look at
two old friends who have reached this plateau in life, only to realize that
nothing has gone quite as they expected. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a
recent divorcé who has not quite given up on the idea of getting back
together; a struggling novelist with a huge manuscript which is not quite
garnering interest, so he is biding his time in his fallback position of a
school teacher. He is an avid wine connoisseur, but that can't hide
the fact that he is drinking a hell of a lot more than he is collecting.
His best friend and old college roommate is Jack (Thomas Haden Church), an
actor who made a small splash on a soap opera about a decade before, but who
is now reduced to doing voiceover disclaimers on commercials. He is a
life-long ladies' man bachelor, but he is finally getting ready to settle
down and marry a beautiful woman.
It is that marriage that
sets the story into motion. Miles offers to take Jack on a final "guy
trip"; a tour of the wineries of the Santa Ynez Valley (the poor
man's wine country.). The trip sounds wholesome enough in theory, even
educational, so that it may have flied with Jack's fiancée. However,
it is really an excuse to indulge both men's passions, Miles plans on going
from place to place drinking while Jack is looking for one last fling as a
In many ways Miles and Jack
seem like polar opposites, but I think they make perfect sense as old
buddies. Miles is the introverted, tortured one. Jack is the
good-natured personable one who is sometimes just a little shallow.
They have known each other for half of their lives now, so they are able to
say the harsh thing to each other, able to point out when the other is is
being an ass and able to know when they just have to be there for the other.
Jack is able to pep-talk Miles through the tough times, while Miles is able
to give Jack a reality check when he is spinning out. Also, I hate to
say something so condescending, but I think each one sees in the other
someone who compliments the other's shortcomings. Smash their good
qualities together and they'd make one pretty good human being.
Early on in their trip, Jack
tells Miles that he is so depressed because he hasn't been laid in the two
years since his divorce. Jack is going to make it his mission to make
sure the Best Man gets to have as good a time as the bridegroom.
Things start looking up in this possibility when they get involved with a
couple of local women. Maya (Virginia Madsen) is a pretty divorced
waitress that Miles has met before. (It quickly becomes obvious that
he has made several previous trips to the area.) Stephanie (Sandra Oh)
is a wilder single mom who works pouring samples in a local vineyard.
Jack and Stephanie's
relationship spontaneously combusts; they are quickly passionately involved,
going everywhere together, making love like rabbits. However,
unbeknownst to Stephanie, the specter of Jack's wedding that weekend is
always casting a pall over them. Jack makes some overtures towards
turning his life around, canceling the wedding, moving up and opening a vineyard with Miles and
staying together with Stephanie. But we know, Miles knows, and
probably even Jack knows it just won't happen.
Miles and Maya take it much
slower. He has voluntarily been out of the dating scene for so long
that he seems unable or scared to totally connect with any one woman.
Also, his depression and his drinking make him seem erratic and moody.
And he suffers two more huge indignities in his life within a day of each
other; he finds out his ex-wife has remarried and that his novel has been
rejected by the small publishing house that was probably his last hope of
getting into print. However, a connection is finally made on a night
where Miles and Maya are sitting on the porch (so they won't have to listen
to their friends having sex inside). A night, by the way, that Miles
was absolutely sure that he had blown. He explains to Maya that the
reason he loves a specific wine, Pinot Noir, is because it comes from a
delicate, thin-skinned grape that has to be nurtured. Maya responds
that what fascinates her about wine is that it is different every day,
growing and swelling with body and flavor until the one day that it will
inevitably peak and start to decline. It is obvious that each one
isn't just talking about vintage... they are talking about themselves.
It is nice to see that after
a long career of playing fascinating supporting roles, Giamatti has been
able to make the leap to leading man status in this film and last year's
American Splendor. After all, Giamatti is not your typical
Hollywood-looking guy; he's kind of funny looking and "follicly challenged."
What he is though, is an amazingly expressive actor. He can transmit
more pain or happiness with one glance than many actors have in their whole
repertoire. One scene, where Miles sees his ex-wife (Jessica Hecht,
who had played the lesbian lover of Ross' ex-wife on Friends) and he
has to feign happiness about all the good things going on in her life as he
is dying inside... it is the stuff of Oscars.
It was also a stroke of
genius to cast Thomas Haden Church as Jack. Just like his character he
reached a certain amount of fame and had infinite potential about ten years
ago when he played Lowell on TV's Wings, but it has seemed squandered
in more recent years when he has been doing crap like the made-for-video
George of the Jungle II. Church knows that this is a good
role the likes of which he hasn't seen in way too long and he bites into the
character with relish.
Sandra Oh is surprisingly
amazing here, as well. I was never a fan of hers, but after seeing her
in this I can finally forgive her for all the years she spent on HBO's
smarmy comedy series Arli$$. However, the real revelation here
is Madsen, who is twenty years removed from the one-dimensional sexy girl
characters she played in the 80s and has spent the last decade saddled in
either bit parts or B-movies... usually both. Her character of Maya is
both open and bruised, the type of subtle acting that is usually expected by
a Streep, a Spacek, a Paltrow or a Connelly. If she isn't nominated
for Best Supporting Actress, then there is no justice.
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: October 30, 2004.