banner image

:: Sideways

With all the talk of Pixar’s unblemished record when it comes to delivering the cinematic goods, don’t forget to mention Alexander Payne. The writer/director has made it four out of four with his latest offering, Sideways, a comedy that ranks even better than his previous efforts, About Schmidt, Election and Citizen Ruth. Everything from the script (co-written with Jim Taylor) to the casting, borders on perfection, although your enjoyment of the film will rely on just how much flawed humanity you like to see in your comedy.

Based on the novel by Rex Pickett, the story is about two friends, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), who embark on a weeklong tour of California’s wineries as a final hurrah before Jack’s impending wedding. Miles is a painfully awkward wine snob who is anxiously awaiting word on a manuscript he has submitted to a publisher. Jack is a cheerful but vapid actor whose one brief brush with fame is a distant memory. For Miles the trip is about indulging in wine, a subject that inspires more passion in him than anything else, for Jack it’s about having as much sex as possible before he says, “I do”.

From a set-up that sounds as promising as Adam Sandler road movie, comes a story that not only manages to be hilarious but also remarkably tender. When Miles and Jack meet up with Mya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress that Miles has secretly liked for years, and her friend Stephanie (Sandra Oh) the film shifts into top gear. Miles and Mya share an obvious attraction for each other but Miles’ crippling neurosis and an inability to move on from his failed marriage result in funny, but brutally honest moments. Meanwhile, Jack and Stephanie embark on an explosive affair that becomes all the more tricky as the truth about Jack’s upcoming wedding draws inevitably closer.

Where the story goes from there is both surprising and completely believable, and the actors attack their roles with such unabashed glee that you cannot help but be taken along for the ride. Sideways is a comedy without gimmicks. It is just the strength of the story, powered by remarkable performances that make it the film by which all other films this year will be judged.