Friday, April 08, 2005


Ok, I already wrote something and Blogger ate it, so now I'm pissed.

But how can I stay pissed when writing about Sideways? Last week I watched Closer, thinking "I'm going to hate this fucking movie," and it turned out I was completely wrong in my pre-judgment. I was positive I'd hate Sideways as well because I don't like "buddy" pics or "midlife crisis" pics and I'm not a big fan of Paul Giamatti (not because of his acting but because he looks exactly like--and even shares some facial tics with--an annoying real life person I know). Again, I was wrong. DEAD wrong. There are some scenes that ring false, and a couple moments where we get a bit too close to territory covered a billion times before, but overall I thought this was a significant film.

Paul Giamatti is brilliant in this movie; his Miles has to be funny while also being a Willie Lowman loser, and few actors can pull this off. Miles is a middle-aged, divorced, miserable, alcoholic middle-school English teacher with writerly pretentions so emotionally bottled up he's liable to implode at any time. He takes his best friend--soon to be married--for a trip along the Napa valley, and Sideways recounts this adventure. There are a few truly mesmerizing scenes (when Miles gets "happy" news in the church parking lot, for example) where Giamatti explores the limits of his character's sanity to great effect. Particularly transcendent is when Miles has his big chance with Maya (Virginia Madsen)--his singular joy is an enthusiasm for fine pinot noir (a grape which metaphorically represents his character), and as Madsen gives her "each bottle of wine is alive" soliloquy watch his face; either this is an actor wholly in command of his craft, or Giamatti is simply responding to the terrific work Madsen does--either way it works, and at last we see that Miles, who so far has been so miserable as to become hateful, has a bit of hope.

And speaking of Madsen--who is she? Why haven't I seen her before? That soliloquy is terrific, and few actors going could pull it off (perhaps Kidman, Julianne Moore at her best, or Naomi Watts). She literally freezes this film for a few moments and makes it all about Maya and how captivating she is, and does so without chewing a centimeter of scenery. Marvelous! And Miles' failure to seize the opportunity Maya gives him actually made me phyiscally uncomfortable, his performance is so believable.

Of course there's also Sandra Oh! And that guy from Wings is good, too as the crass and shallow Jack who proves to be less crass and shallow than expected.
The film is shot beautifully, and as a bit of a wine poseur myself I don't doubt much of my appreciation of the work stems from vinyard tours and tasting scenes.

Despite seeing the ending coming ten minutes too early, I was satisfied by its taunting ambiguity. This is a superior film--as good as The Aviator or Million Dollar Baby, but different from either. Think of Woody Allen's stuff as he moved from goober humor to existentialist Bergmanesque goober humor.