Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: "Sideways" is a Bit Too Pleased with Itself

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 25 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Sideways (2004)
Running time: 123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes)
MPAA – R for language, some strong sexual content, and nudity
DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
WRITERS: Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne (from the novel by Rex Pickett)
PRODUCER: Michael London
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Phedon Papamichael
EDITOR: Kevin Tent
Academy Award winner

COMEDY/DRAMA with elements of romance

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Jessica Hecht, Missy Doty, M.C. Gainey, Alysia Reiner, Shake Tukhmanyan, and Duke Moosekian

Miles Faymond (Paul Giamatti), a divorced middle school teacher and struggling/failed novelist, takes his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church), who is to be married the following weekend, on a wine tasting tour of California. Both men are reaching middle age and feel they have nothing but disappointments to show for their life, especially Miles, who is a mean drunk and takes at least two prescription anti-depressants.

Miles has taken this trip several times, and he’s looking forward to entertaining his friend before his altar-bound day. Jack, however, wants to get laid before he gets married. In that fashion, he seduces (or is seduced) Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a bartender at a winery and Jack encourages Miles to make a move on Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress Miles actually knows from previous trips. The results of these two flings are wildly different for each man.

Sideways is the critical darling of 2004, with some critics apparently praising it as the film of their generation. It’s entertaining and has some wonderfully poignant and romantic moments, but road trips and traveling scenes in films are sometimes viewed as a sign that the storyteller is killing time before getting to the heart of the story, except there isn’t much heart to this story. Director Alexander Payne has certainly made a good film, but ain’t much meat on the bone. Sideways may be the glossy, short-on-substance version of an art movie. Miles, the lead character, is not having an existential crisis; he’s just joyless and often boring, while Jack is a colorless cad. I found myself glad that Jack was (only) a supporting player and wanting him to be on screen as little as possible, though his colorfully bawdy conversations do liven the film.

None of the performances stand out, especially Virginia Madsen’s, which has earned her an Oscar nomination. She plays the character so downtrodden that it’s almost difficult to accept that the girl does have college ambitions. Church’s performance, which also earned him a Oscar nod, is okay, but not worth wasting a lot of words on. Some feel Paul Giamatti was robbed as he didn’t get an Oscar nomination, but he basically played a better-dressed version of his Harvey Pekar character from American Splendor. I do give him credit for making a bore endearing, but Giamatti has a nice guy quality. I blame the character problems on the writing, that it needs Giamatti to make Miles intriguing even when the material is a little light and not well done. There are moments in Sideways when Giamatti lifts this film on his shoulders and makes the story compelling, even when his character is just being annoying. Giamatti isn’t the tall, dark, and handsome type, but he has something that works on the big screen. Maybe, that alone is enough of a reason for Oscar to come calling… eventually.

7 of 10

2005 Academy Awards: 1 win: “Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay” (Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor); 4 nominations: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Michael London), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Alexander Payne), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Thomas Haden Church) and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Virginia Madsen)

2005 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor)

2005 Golden Globes: 2 wins: “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor); 5 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Alexander Payne), “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Rolfe Kent), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Paul Giamatti), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Thomas Haden Church), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Virginia Madsen)


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