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In a year when the critics are searching in vain for a few good films to nominate for Oscars, here is one. Sideways is a little gem of a film. It tells the story of an out of work actor (Thomas Haden Church) who is about to get married. His best friend and best man (Paul Giamatti) takes him away for a few days before the wedding to the wine country in Central California. Giamatti is a schlubby divorced unpublished writer who is clinically depressed. But he loves wine. In fact, he is a wine snob. Church on the other hand is a crass, shallow ladies-man. How could these men be best friends? They were college roommates, of course! Anyway, off they go, visiting wineries, where Giamatti tastes the wine while Church guzzles it, playing golf, eating and drinking a lot. They end up at the Hitching Post Restaurant in Buellton, CA where Giamatti renews his flirtation with one of the waitresses (Virginia Madsen). Nothing would have come of this except that Church strikes up a friendship with a friend of Madsen's (Sandra Oh). And before you know it, the four are double dating. Needless to say, Church and Giamatti fail to mention that there is a wedding coming up, and needless to say, this leads to disaster. Along the way, our protagonists have some very entertaining adventures.
Sideways is the latest film by Alexander Payne, director of Election and About Schmidt, and husband of Nepean's own Sandra Oh. Payne had a tough act to follow after About Schmidt which had two Oscar nominations but he has done it again. Even though I described the plot of Sideways as if it is a slapstick comedy, it isn't. It does have its slapstick moments, including one at the end which was too much for my movie-companion, Paula. But Sideways would have to be classified as a Romantic Comedy. Like About Schmidt, it is a character study with comedic moments. What made About Schmidt so great was seeing the world through the eyes of Jack Nicholson as Schmidt, who had just retired, lost his wife and had to watch his daughter marry a man he didn't like. In Sideways, it is the character of Miles, played by Paul Giamatti that makes the film. Giamatti has been around for a while mostly in small parts in small films although he had a memorable role in Saving Private Ryan. Until last year, he was more famous for being the son of the late Bart Giamatti who was President of Yale and the National Baseball League, and Commissioner of Baseball until Pete Rose killed him. Last year, Paul got his role of a lifetime as Harvey Pekar in American Splendor. He was amazing in that film, and he has another role of a lifetime in Sideways. Giamatti is one of those actors who can just stand there while a stream of emotions flow across his face. Church is good too and he works well with Giamatti. He has the easier role to play but he does it well. In real life, Church did play on a long-running series, Wings and hasn't done that much since. George Clooney originally wanted to play the Church role but the director decided that no one would believe that Clooney was an unsuccessful actor. The other two actors, Madsen and Oh, stand up very well to their male counterparts. Oh, best known in the US for Arli$$, projects a joie de vivre better than anyone I know. I'm glad she is getting some good parts now (i.e., Under the Tuscan Sun). Madsen has also been around the block a few times and is having a revival as an older woman (41). She and Giamatti have a really nice chemistry.
Sideways is easily one of the best movies I've seen this year. It is a joy to watch. Everyone I know who has seen it, has liked it, even Robin who has a hard time with "boy" movies. And I really liked the ending. The plot could have veered wildly one way or the other but they did it just right. Sideways is just opening across the country in a small way so keep a watch on your movie listings and don't miss it!