Friday, December 03, 2004

The Film What I Saw

Yesterday I was feeling restless, and went to see Sideways at Screen on the Green. Review follows, for the benefit of people who are unfortunate enough not to be me (The man sat next to me was scribbling furiously into a reporter's notebook, and I was going to harangue him afterwards to include a few points that occurred to me, but I needed the toilet as the credits were rolling, so I'll have to exorcise them here):

Sideways, co-written and directed by Alexander Payne, brings American Splendor's marvelous everyman Paul Giamatti to further public attention as Miles, an introverted slump-shouldered divorcée and wine snob, who embarks on a stag week with his personality polar opposite, Jack, a has-been actor (Thomas Hayden Church, looking every inch the part). This is a buddy movie that makes the most of the disparity in appearance and style of its leads; Giamatti looks like a gone-to-seed Billy Crystal, a borderline alcoholic constantly ruing past mistakes, and Church is a weathered Californian would-be playboy able to keep his infidelities from keeping him awake at night, not that he intends on getting much sleep. These two rather stock characters are given depth by great performances played with comic pathos.

On their road-trip, they drink wine, and Jack hatches his plan to get both himself and the reticent Miles laid. They fall in with Maya (Virginia Madsen, sister of Michael, described by as one of the beauties of 1986), whom Jack bullies Miles into pursuing and Jack of course keeps his upcoming wedding secret from the object of his affections, Stephanie. On a double date, after being warned against drinking too much wine by Jack, Miles drinks too much wine and drunk-dials his ex-wife who he's just learned is remarried, and the foursome head back to Stephanie's. While Jack and Stephanie embark on loud sex (a Jack later puts it, 'she's nasty!'), Miles and Stephanie have a more chaste conversation, brilliantly scripted, where their shared wine appreciation substitutes for direct intimacy.

While About Schmidt, Hayne's previous movie, suffered from the casting of larger-than-life actors Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates in the lead roles, with the characters being little more than collections of actorly tics, Sideways' relatively anonymous actors allows for a greater depth of feeling and character development, even within the confines of a fairly straightforward buddy movie. Witty, charming and sympathetic by turns, this movie, made for $16m - a trifle by modern standards - proves that it is still possible for able directors to get intelligent entertaining mainstream movies made. Catch it at the cinema from 28th January, or wait until the video release and enjoy it with a cheap bottle of Merlot or two.

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