Sideways is written by someone who loves wine. Not just drinking it, but every aspect. He adores the smell, the color, even how the grapes are grown. And he loves wine enough to poke fun at the culture that surrounds it as well. Also satirizing himself in the process, making fun of the pretentiousness that comes with the hobby–even if it’s a bit too on-the-nose at times.
Adapted from Rex Pickett’s novel of the same name, Sideways follows Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) as they drive up to Santa Barbara County’s wine country for Jack’s bachelor party. Although it’s not much of a party–more like just the two guys going wine tasting.
Miles is the wine connoisseur of the pair, and he’s planned the entire week out minute-by-minute. But Jack has other plans. He wants a week full of sexual encounters leading up to his wedding–much to the dismay of Miles.
The two best friends are on opposite ends of the personality spectrum, but neither have it figured out properly. Miles, a struggling writer, is way too cautious in life and has no confidence to talk to women, whereas Jack, a C-list actor, is overly confident and a little too hedonistic. Over the course of the film they try to give each other advice, but individually aren’t too sure what they’re doing either.
Sideways has a classic vibe, perhaps because the dialogue feels very written, like the novel it’s adapted from. Though I think the film’s intent is not to stray too far from that. The quaint tone adequately matches the setting.
The score composed by Rolfe Kent also helps with that vibe, even becoming very intrusive at times. Almost like the music is trying to force a particular style on us and congeal that tone.
Sideways isn’t really a laugh-out-loud comedy, except for a couple of moments. I like to think of it as a light drama instead. The film is poignant and has things to say. Giamatti is the standout, as the pain behind his eyes is so palpable. He becomes one with his character that it’s no wonder his talents have been so in demand since. Virginia Madsen, who plays his love interest, Maya, also does an excellent job at complimenting Giamatti, even if the two of them don’t have amazing chemistry. But honestly, that unexpected relationship is what helps make the story so unique. This film is all about unlikely pairings–much to the dismay of the underlying subject matter.
As an aside, it’s bizarre to see a world where some people have cell phones while others don’t. We forget that for a small chunk in recent history, this was a reality. One that’s captured in this movie unintentionally. In this day, we will never see this plot device appear inadvertently. Any inclusion of the once-reality will have to be completely intentional.