Worth A Look: 18.54%
Pretty Bad: 3.9%
Total Crap: 4.88%
17 reviews, 103 user ratings
by Laura Kyle
If you fast-forwarded Harold and Kumar go to White Castle about 15 years, you'd get a small hint of Sideways -- just replace the burger joint with a winery and oh, have Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Election) write and direct.Miles is down on his luck. He's been divorced for two years, is holding out for a book deal, but pays the bills as a middle-school English teacher. He's lonely and depressed -- providing his own personal commentary track of his dead-end life to buddy Jack. Jack's acting career has been diminished from soap star to a voice in commercials, but he takes life a lot less seriously than his glum friend, and is probably a lot happier as a result. He's a "glass half-full" (even if it's completely empty), kind of guy, which certainly causes the always-negative Miles to butt heads with him on more than one occasion.
"Harold and Kumar: Mid-life crisis."
Before Jack's wedding, Miles sets out to take him on a 1-week tour of California wine country and perhaps play a few rounds of golf. But Jack has his own mission: to get Miles laid, and also do a little living himself. Jack practically shoves Miles into a relationship with Maya, a waitress and fellow wine connoisseur, and promptly seduces Maya's friend Stephanie.
Sideways is essentially a "coming of middle-age" story about two men, one who's watching his life pass him by, always coloring inside the lines, and one who's likely to destroy his life, always coloring outside the lines. It's not a story, however, about two best friends who change each other for the better, just in time for a happy ending.
Writer/director Alexander Payne is far too busy molding his shockingly real, very human characters, to appease a Hollywood producer with "cuteness." He tells like it is, but luckily for us -- in a brilliant, poetic, and often funny, way.
Payne doesn't abuse his metaphors (wine being the most glaring of them). He is fully aware his characters must develop on their own, so he doesn't soak props, for example a bottle of wine, in too much symbolism, which is why the metaphors actually work.
How he manages to ground Sideways in such deep-seated honesty and still breathe such artistry and hope into each scene is a remarkable feat, one that probably has him preparing an acceptance speech for one of the Oscars Sideways is banking on come February.
As for the cast, well, it doesn't get any better than this. The beautiful Virginia Madsen is nothing short of perfect as Maya, and Paul Giamatti is Miles, or was, at least on the set of Sideways. He's as pathetic as he is frustrating as he is relatable. How he didn't get a nod from the Academy is a shame, especially considering this is The Role of his career.
However, the Academy did notice supporting actor Thomas Hayden Church, as Jack, and rightfully so! Church pulls off the "loveable jerk" like I've never seen it pulled off before. He transcends every cliché he could've fallen victim to, and somehow gathers up three dimensions for a guy who is basically a single-minded idiot -- effortlessly. And Sandra Oh, as his mistress, hits all the right notes, some quite funny, without ever getting in the way of her three co-stars.
There's a scene where a character laments about how publishers aren't looking for good novels, but marketable ones. Sideways is the prime example of such a screenplay: a masterpiece, but no big stars or catchy pitch backing it up.
Fortunately, Payne has proven himself in the industry and didn't need those things to get Sideways into movie theatres. If only that was the fate of every solid script passed from one hand to the other and then eventually thrown out with the garbage. (Meanwhile Hilary Duff signs on for another major studio picture that probably hasn't even been written yet.)But alas, Sideways did get made. And it's clever, it's sad, and hilarious at times -- and it didn't sacrifice one ounce of truth either. So brace yourself for one of the most genuine, and not to mention ingenious, films in recent memory.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10451&reviewer=369
originally posted: 01/30/05 20:01:46
|OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 New York Film Festival. For more in the 2004 New York Film Festival series, click here.