Here’s a film with all the essential ingredients for an independent-feeling, award-worthy film, all of which would seem superficial if the film wasn’t so darn honest at its core.
When Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is asked by his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) to be the Best Man at his wedding, Miles offers to take Jack on a wine tour in lieu of a wedding present. While Miles sees the trip as a cheap way for two old buddies to hang out one last time, Jack embraces the tour as a final chance to sow his oats, even going so far as to promise to get Miles into bed as well. While Miles takes almost no chances, Jack takes every chance, but when the tour ends, will they meet somewhere in the middle or will their friendship fall apart completely?
At face value, Sideways looks like an ensemble film or, at the very least, a buddy picture. The truth is that the story is told from Miles’ point of view as he endures the success of friends both in business and love while he is bereft of both. As the story unfolds, his character it is only one that changes, but in spite of the plot’s predictability there is an underlying honesty about Miles and his plight that manages to transcend a critic-friendly film and strike a chord about life.
That honesty seems to have poured out of author Rex Pickett, who wrote the novel that Sideways is based on from his own experience in trying to achieve his own success as a writer. Premiere magazine recently featured an article penned by Pickett about the truth behind the novel and trying to get it to the top of anyone’s slush pile to be taken seriously (and keep him from being evicted and starving to death). His true story of trying to get published or sell a script is by far more compelling and almost unbelievable, but even under the guise of Miles, the desperation still bleeds through. It is to Paul Giamatti’s credit that Miles is so transparent to the audience while at the same time invisible all his acquaintances.
The only thing that hurts the film are the trappings of other Indie-like films, such as the shock value of showing someone doing something no one expects to see or hearing someone saying something that no one expects to hear. The moments are obvious when they come and they reek of pointlessness amid serious storytelling. It knocks the overall effect down a notch, lowering a really good film into a merely good one. One surprising thing for the film’s random nudity is that it doesn’t include actress Virginia Madsen, which most people will remember from every R-rated film she used to star in regardless of the subject matter. And good for her! She’s always been a great actress and showing her unmentionables shouldn’t be a requisite for her employment.
Sideways is a pleasant little adult film for adults to enjoy, and it’s nice to see one like this come along. But don’t buy into the hype; just because it’s new thing doesn’t make it the best thing, but it’s sorely been missed at the theater. NOW can we get an ‘A’ rating for adult instead of just ‘R’ and ‘NC-17’?
(a three skull recommendation out of four)