#268 Sideways

(2004, Alexander Payne)

“When do we drink it?”

Is there anything more pretentious in this world than wine culture? I personally don’t think so. Spending hours swirling around a glass of fermented grapes and then claiming that it smells of wood shavings and tastes like strawberries is an activity I’ve never quite understood. So hey, here’s a movie about that! HOW WONDERFUL!

Sideways is an independent movie from 2004 about two men who go on a wine-tasting tour of California as a sort of middle class bachelor party. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a failed writer and wine enthusiast treating his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) to the trip before the latter gets married. Throughout the trip, Jack wants one more sexual fling before becoming a husband, while Miles wants a relaxing trip. Shenanigans happen.

So, I said that wine culture is hugely pretentious, and Sideways does little to shake that view from my mind. Miles especially is a pretentious man who acts as if his love of wine makes him wonderful, and will spend much of his time in the movie doing the whole sniffing, swirling and rambling that happens with wine reviews.

The movie sometimes like to portray this as somewhat silly (which it is), and this would be fine except it then plays it completely straight later – wine is used in an analogy (I’ll get to that) and when the romantic lead talks enthusiastically about how wine is “alive”, we’re apparently supposed to see this as a good quality in her. Make up your mind, movie!

It doesn’t help that Miles is a huge sad sack of a man. He’s a divorcee, a failed writer (with a semi-autobiographical tome as his work, that’s not a cliché at all, of course) and drinks too much. He also spends most of his time complaining about his lot in life and moping around like everyone should feel sorry for him. This is our protagonist, the character we’re supposed to connect with and travel through the story with, and yet he’s a person that no one would want to go anywhere near in a million years.

The movie also decides to highlight his character through wine, in a rather obvious attempt at an analogy, in a failed attempt to make him sympathetic. Describing his favourite wine as Pinot Noir, a wine that’s difficult to bring to its full potential because it’s so fragile but is absolutely amazing if you take the time to nurture it, it smacks the viewer with such obvious symbolism that I think I actually groaned.

Jack, being the party animal of the story, perhaps livens things up a bit, yeah? Well, the answer to that is a resounding no. Jack is an unlikeable arsewipe of a man who feels that it’s appropriate to cheat on his fiancée a week before their wedding, as if it’s somehow some rite of passage every man needs to go through. It’s pretty much impossible to see why he and Miles are friends, especially when Jack is basically a dick to everybody in the whole movie.

All of this combines to make a movie that’s little better than Drab Middle-Aged Men Drink Wine: The Movie with very little else going for it. It’s meant to be a comedy-drama, but it fails to make me care enough to work as a drama and never once made me laugh. Scenes which were obviously meant to be funny simply weren’t – a scene where the duo are harassed on a golf course made no sense and a scene where Miles has to retrieve Jack’s wallet from a room where two fat people are having sex is just mean-spirited and crass.

Essentially, Sideways combines unlikeable leads, pretentious wine-tasting and an ending where nothing is learned, nothing is resolved and nobody changes, making an incredibly pointless movie that probably only appeals to middle-aged sad sack men suffering mid-life crises. For everyone else, it’s just sad and pretentious.

Starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen & Sandra Oh
Written by Rex Pickett (novel) and Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Produced by Michael London
Music by Rolfe Kent
Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael
Edited by Kevin Tent

Favourite Scene: The credits.
Scene That Bugged Me: Was there really any need for the unpleasant sex scene, or indeed anything that led up to it?

Watch it if: You’re a middle-aged middle-class sad sack of a man
Avoid it if: You find wine-tasting pretentious

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Posted on March 24, 2014, in 2000s, Comedy, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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