Sideways (2004)

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 4:27 PM | Posted in


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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9.6/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

SIDEWAYS (2004) - Alexander Payne

I wrote a quote once: "Movies are portals that invite us to new worlds and dimensions that compel us to fall in love and refuse to return to our reality." But sometimes it is essential for us to watch movies that study humanism, traits that we as audience members have in our daily lives. Director Alexander Payne invites us to explore the themes of human behavior through his Best Picture nominee Sideways.

Sideways is an independent film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (losing to Millionaire Dollar Baby). It was based on the novel of the same name at the same year. Combine the original societal story of Rex Pickett's novel with the dark humor and satirical style of Alexander Payne and Sideways comes in as an engaging and entertaining "dramedy."

Sideways follows Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti), an unsuccessful writer, a wine-aficionado, and a depressed middle school English teacher, who takes his soon-to-be-married actor friend and college roommate, Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church), on a road trip through Santa Ynez Valley wine country. Miles wishes to relax and live freely for a week while his friend desires one last sexual fling. The film chronicles these two men's experiences as they encounter Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress at Miles's favorite restaurant, and her friend Stephanie (Sandra Oh), an employee at a local winery.

The film from a technical basis is surprisingly rudimentary. The cinematography is plain and simple, and there is not much emphasis on art direction here. However, the simplicity is what makes Sideways an intelligent narrative. Though the visual appeal of the film might bore viewers, the dialogue is witty, the jokes funny, and the screenplay as a whole excellently written. In fact, Sideways won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, winning over the renowned Paul Haggis, writer of Millionaire Dollar Baby as well as Crash.

Paul Giamatti is a terrific actor, one of the most underrated of all time. Here in Sideways, Giamatti has pulled off probably one of the greatest performances of his entire career. He is the most well-casted actor here and what communicates to us the most is the help of his physical appearance. Miles is frustrated with his life and he displays it consistently throughout the film. I spoke before how the greatest technique in acting is naturalism. Giamatti not only expressed naturalism here, but he also defined naturalism. He is one of the most realistic characters in recent cinema and convinces the audience better than anyone else. He constantly speaks fondly of the red wine Pinot noir, while despising Merlot. The wine, symbolic in its image, connects to Giamatti's character very closely. After I finished Sideways, I am eager to try Pinot noir as well as Merlot.

Thomas Haden Church plays an actor in this film. Though Church is not the most attractive actor to play this role, his appearance is the spitting image of his character's personality, a playboy who cannot control his human needs. He is full of fun, the exact opposite of Paul Giamatti, who is no fun at all. This contrast creates one of the most intriguing "bromance" chemistries since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh both play unique female characters in this film. Commonly seen in other films, minor female characters are emphasized on their attractiveness and their seductiveness. Here,Sideways never stressed on the good looks of Madsen and Oh, but rather the charm of their hearts and soul. Their personalities are what appeal to the audience and not their loveliness. They are elegant on the inside, not the outside, and with the help of marvelous dialogue, Madsen and Oh play two female characters just as realistic and natural as Giamatti and Church. Sideways bears an excellent cast, all performed wonderfully. Each character has their own story to tell, even when the film's main story is Giamatti's. With practical characters, Sideways successfully studies the behavior of Americans. 

Every film has two ends of the scope. One end is the technical side, consisting of cinematography, lighting, art direction, costume, all the hands-on elements of a film. The other end is the  theoretical side, consisting of themes, motifs, symbolism, characterization, and other analyses of other abstract subjects. Sideways excels in the second half of the scope. However, the film never attempted to deliver a complete message about the themes. The movie is only a trip to explore these topics, not to say something about it. It raises debatable arguments without making an argument itself. Although this approach is entirely admirable, I probably would have enjoyed the film as a whole more if it begins with an intention to deliver a moral and execute it well with a good "beginning-middle-end" narrative. Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny that this study of American humanism stands out as an aesthetic piece.

In conclusion, Sideways is a noteworthy film, probably one of the smartest and most well-written independent films I have ever seen. Similar to the power of the indie genre, Sideways strives with strong characterization, engaging humor, and charm. Though I believe the film could have been bolder and more daring, Sideways is a special occasion in which we can understand the way we live our lives and discover ourselves. If one thinks about it long enough, the reasoning behind the film being called Sideways will slowly unfold. It is a clever technique of delivery. Finally, be sure to occupy yourself with a nice bottle of wine during the film. You will need it afterwards.


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