Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Watched the movie Sideways over the weekend and was just wowed by this little gem of a movie. Not the greatest of movies that I have ever watched, but a good movie nevertheless. Directed by Alexander Payne of Elections and ‘About Schmidt’ fame, this movie tells a story about losers, wine and making lemonade when life serves you limes. The performances by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church are really exceptional, and the supporting performances by Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh are pretty good as well. But what wins is the storyline and the adept screenplay, which though predictable progresses at a good pace with excellent narration.

What I liked about the movie is the parallelism between the two primary characters of Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) who are morally bankrupt, but to varying levels. Jack while overtly appears to have no scruples whatsoever, Miles puts on a façade being virtuous, while he is equally duplicitous and reprehensible as Jack regarding his convictions. The two college buddies take a road trip a week before Jack’s wedding, to taste California wine and play golf. Miles who fancies himself as a wine connoisseur, with all the pretensions of sniffing, gargling and whirling the wine glass, takes Jack to different vineyards around California to savor the different kinds of wines produced at the vineyards. Jack couldn’t care less, and he comes along for the ride just for one last hurrah, to sow his wild oats before his impending wedding and giving up his exalted independence. There is interesting scene where Miles is trying to impart the precocious wisdom of wine selection and tasting to Jack, and Jack merely retorts ‘So when do we get to drink?’. Miles is a certifiable loser and there is one powerful scene in the movie, when his book gets rejected by a publisher and his outburst following this rejection. The frustrations that he mouths have also been plagiarized from some other writer, and are not his own. Jack in the meantime seduces a free spirited barwoman and leaves Miles stranded to do his own thing, when he develops a romantic interest in a local waitress Maya. Many misunderstandings ensues between the two couples, and the involvement of the two friends with the ladies remains just a temporary tryst on a road trip. After a week long journey the friends return home from their escapades and for Jack’s wedding. Miles life continues to fall apart, as he seems to be getting sucked into the lowest nadirs of life. One scene that stands out in my mind is after he runs into his ex-wife, who is now happily married and settled with someone else, Miles runs back to his apartment and pulls out a 1961 wine bottle that he is saving for a special occasion. He drinks this wine out of a Styrofoam cup at a diner, while chowing down burgers and onion rings. The look on his face while doing this says it all. There is also a scene, where he is extolling the virtues of Pinot to his love interest Maya, during which he makes a case for the Pinot grape and their temperamental existence. It seems like he is making justifications for his own inconsequential existence.

This movie is definitely not everyone’s fare, and many might get put off by the duplicity and shallowness of the central characters. But it worked for me, since there is a little bit of Miles and little of Jack in most of us.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its an Excellent review of a movie which is one of the best new movies I have seen after our very own Swades.
But I dont agree with your assertion about Miles's character, that he was pretentious in his virtousity. I think that guy had shown a consistent conviction through out the movie. He was also surprisingly honest about his own failures and sums it up beautifully in the sea-side scene(albeit with some one else's words).
I particularly liked the use of wine as a metaphor in the movie for the human life cycle. I was reminded of Shakespeare's soliloquy about the 'seven ages of man'. I also liked the ending which left the viewer with a hint of mystery just like the taste of wine which just gives a hint of its ingredients. All in all a connoisseurs delight.


5:45 PM  
Blogger chappan said...

Thanks Ashutosh for your comments.
I will disagree with you regarding his character assessment from the following scenes in the movie:
1. He steals from his mother after the good soon flower and birthday routine
2. His marriage ends because he cheats on his wife and has an affair with someone else
3. When Miles goes gaga over the wine at Stephanies places, Maya finds it overdone, contrary to Miles's opinion, which Miles later concurs
4. His outburst after the publishers rejection, which again are not his own

Is this guy ever committed to anyone or anything or even true to himself or is he just all talk and no substance? The pivotal scene in the movie is when Jack comes back from his little incident with the waitress. Miles realizes that, unlike himself, deep down he is really sincere. And that is when, I think, he decides to help Jack out. Also when he drinks his vintage 61, I would like to think it was more of a celebration for his ex-wifes happiness than for himself. To sound cheesy, like old wine, Miles begins to mature. So there is redemption for him after all.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sourin (sorry for the misspelling of your name in my last message). As always we are at loggerheads. But I must confess I like to play the devil's advocate:). I do agree partially with your views but not completely. And hence I guess we can agree to disagree. I have replied to the points you made in your post, as follows:

1. I agree with this point, it does support your assertion.
2. This I am not too sure about since the reason given was the tyrannical nature of his wife. As with almost everything in life this point also cant be treated only in black and white.
3. This could be an error in judgement but he was gracious enough to accept his mistake.
4. Does his outburst smack of duplicity or an honest appraisal of his failures?

9:15 AM  
Blogger chappan said...

Tyrannical nature of his wife ? I dont remember that in the movie. I thought he adored her and was still in love with her, hence the call to her from the restaurant.
Yes and I know that all of us have our own personality cracks, and so did Miles. So on this one we shall agree to disagree.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey you remember the time when Jack was trying to lift Miles' spirits? he says the following w.r.t his wife:
"dont u remember the times when she used to make you feel so small?when she pushed you into going out with *i forgot the name of the girl he mentioned in the movies*?"
I do agree though that he loved her deeply but the reasons of the break up was not necessarily only miles' fault.
anyways, it was a good movie and both of us enjoyed it:).

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Vinita said...

I went to see this film because of postive reviews and urged by friends. I am all for independent films but...I am baffled by all the postive feed back.

The acting was good sometimes excellent Jack's dim realization of his own inadequacies.
However, the story and direction offers the viewer nothing in the way of involvement in the characters' lives or problems. The only thing the film gave me was a thirst for pinot noir and for my money back.

11:55 AM  

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