Projections - Movie Reviews

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church,
Virginia Madsen, Alex Kalognomos, Sandra Oh

The latest from the writing team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Sideways, has a lot to offer when it comes to wine and how people behave. Under Payne’s smoothly astute direction, the film may be his most balanced and assured to date.

Payne and Taylor’s adaptation of a Rex Pickett novel could be considered a companion piece to their last collaboration, About Schmidt. The picturesque visual style reflects the kinds of 70's movies that ushered in road movies from the idyllic setting of the Santa Ynez Valley, a long way from Payne’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.

This personal, fresh departure from Payne features a recently divorced, eight grade teacher, Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti of Confidence), who is the best man for Jack (Thomas Haden Chruch of TV’s “Wings).

Jack’s gift from Miles is a week long trip through California wine country, not just as a learning experience, but to drink. There’s a lot to talk over when it comes to the Pinots, Cabernets and Chardonnays-the comparison between grapes and people and their surroundings makes a lot of sense. The excursion goes through Santa Barbara and up the California coast and there’s plenty of self-discovery through their experiences and the women they’ll meet.

Church, who is quite effective on screen, makes one feel that Jack is really enjoying his last week as a bachelor. He’s a struggling actor, never advancing beyond fare like soaps and television ad work. It’s clear that Giamatti and Church have a palpable connection to their characters who’ve been through thick and thin.

Sideways often maintains a solemn tone, but plenty of humorous situations creep in as in Payne’s more caustic films like Election and Citizen Ruth. Payne’s real-life wife Sandra OH (Under The Tuscan Sun) has fun playing a wine pouring merchant named Stephanie who drives a Harley and has an impulsive outburst after being betrayed.

Another strong relationship in this rich film is the one between Stephanie’s friend, Maya, a waitress, played with depth by Virginia Madsen (Candyman), and Miles. Giamatti, is just as good here as in last year’s American Splendor, in instilling wit into his character’s paranoia and wistfulness. Their romance suggests the importance of taking a time in developing a relationship that understands where two people are in their adulthood.

This photogenic, sensitively made film makes great use of the sun-dappled wine country and has a cool jazz-inflected score by Rolfe Kent. It gives connoisseurs much to savor in a deliberate mature mid-life excursion that is filled with honesty and comedy, and not without the kind of openness of body and soul that graced About Schmidt. Evolving and gaining complexity through a rich understanding of friendships, this four-actor ensemble piece with sad, poignant, delightful detours is a poetic bouquet that demands constant care and attention.


A Top Ten pick

Home | Search | Reviewer Bios | Links | Mail Us
Copyright © 2005 Projections