"Giamatti was unlucky not to receive an Oscar nomination for his touching and subtle performance, which betters any of his previous work."

Sideways is one of the year's most pleasant surprises and has deservedly picked up five Oscar nominations. The film stars Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, as Miles and Jack, two middle-aged friends who take a wine-tasting road trip around the vineyards of Santa Barbara in Jack's last week of freedom before marriage.

The two friends appear to have little in common. Miles is a depressive sad sack in his third year of failing to get over a divorce. Jack, on the other hand, is a blond, gregarious playboy, who is looking for a last week of fun before settling down.

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Along the way, Miles tries to teach Jack about wine, while Jack tries to get Miles laid. He arranges a double date with Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a local wine pourer, and Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress, whom Miles already knows and admires. Gradually, these relationships develop and Miles opens up to the possibility of finding love for a second time.

This romance may appeal more to male viewers than to women, as it matches the rather doughy Giamatti (Harvey Pekar in American Splendor) with the dazzlingly beautiful Madsen. Nonetheless, it leads to one of the most romantic scenes of any recent film, when Miles tells Maya about a particular type of grape, which he describes as vulnerable, temperamental and thin-skinned, but worth the extra nurturing. He is really talking about himself and Maya's response is suitably tender.

The film is based on a novel and this shows in the complexity and depth of the characters. Throughout the film, we feel that we like and understand them, even though in many ways they are unappealing. Early on, Miles visits his mother and steals some money from her drawer. In any other film, this would be a simple cue that he is a villain, but Sideways is more forgiving. Instead, we learn that his mother knows about the stealing and allows it, although it is a source of sadness and regret for both of them.

Giamatti was unlucky not to receive an Oscar nomination for his touching and subtle performance, which betters any of his previous work. The whole cast are excellent, in fact, and I suspect Church will probably win the Oscar in the Best Supporting category. Alexander Payne's direction is simpler and more effective than in his previous and the rather overrated film, About Schmidt.

Sideways has the added bonus of being clear and detailed enough to actually teach us a little about different wines, which makes a nice change from the usual filmgoing experience, after which we can barely remember the characters' names.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2005
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The adventures of two middle-age men on a wine-drinking stag weekend.
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Read more Sideways reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2
The Exile ***1/2
Josh Morrall ***1/2

Director: Alexander Payne

Writer: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke, Jessica Hecht, Missy Doty, M C Gainey

Year: 2004

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/Hungary


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