AAR Goes to the Movies, Pt. 1

Sideways (2004)

I recently rewatched Sideways. It’s funny that I expected a romance, and actually shelve the DVD in the romance section at home, because really the film isn’t in fact a romance, but a very good buddy movie. Yet the romance subplot left such a strong impression on me that I mostly remembered those scenes, and in revisiting them, I knew why.

Miles (Paul Giamatti), a divorced high-school teacher approaching middle age and connoisseur of wines, goes on a one-week-trip with his best friend from college, Jack (Thomas Haden Church). Jack is an actor who used to be in a soap opera, but is reduced to filming commercials these days. In a week’s time, he is to marry the beautiful daughter of a very wealthy realtor. Miles and Jack are as different as can be: Jack wants to cram as much fun as possible into this week, sex included, and is not bothered by being unfaithful to his fiancee. Neurotic Miles is still in love with his former wife, not interested in finding a new partner, and far more worried about a novel that he has written and that his agent may have placed. When Jack points out that Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress in a restaurant that Miles frequents, is showing an interest in him, he is more irritated than anything else. Yet Jack is nothing if not determined to see his friend gets laid …

Throughout the film, you keep wondering how two such opposing characters can be friends, and then there comes another scene and you think yes, that’s why. Both Miles and Jack can be truly annoying, callous or whiny at times, but director Alexander Payne manages to create strong sympathy for them all the same, even for philandering Jack. In terms of romance, Miles is a prime example of the slightly ugly, clever guy who never gets the girl at the end. Jack is a highly ironic take on the archetypal rake, slightly aged good looks included.

The landcapes are beautiful, the food is sumptuous, the secondary characters are remarkable and well-rounded. So what about the romance? If you like a muted, slow development, where little happens on the surface but with a wealth of meaning underneath, it’s to die for. There is a scene in which Maya and Miles discuss wines which is so breathtaking with its unspoken messages that I had tears in my eyes as I watched it – not because it’s sad, but because it’s so intense. So even if the romance is not the movie’s main plot, it is the part that most impresses me.

So, yes, Sideways will stay on my romance DVD shelf. It’s an extremely beautiful film, both funny and moving, and it’s definitely a film to watch more than once to savor all its richness.

-Rike Horstmann

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4 Responses to “AAR Goes to the Movies, Pt. 1”

  1. LeeB. says:

    Rike: I remember watching this movie several years ago and I was surprised at how dark in tone it was. From all the previews and clips I had seen, I expected something a lot more light-hearted.

    But I do remember exactly the scene you mentioned about the discussion of wines. You’re right, it was memorable.

  2. Jessa Slade says:

    Plus there’s that hysterical line about merlots. And I LIKE merlot :)

  3. Susan/DC says:

    Yes, that scene with Miles and Maya, where each of them reveals so much about themselves even if on the surface it’s a discussion of wine — stunning.

  4. Mark says:

    I’ve seen the movie twice. It’s one of those movies you don’t watch every day because it’s like watching an idiot make the same mistakes again and again. It can be frustrating. But the first real high point in the movie is where Maya and Miles are sharing the reason they became oenophiles and you begin to see Maya isn’t “just a waitress” and Miles isn’t a geeky loser, washed up in middle-age, no where left to go. These characters have depth, heart, soul, and can openly express it. You see the passion in their common bond that is more than surface lust, unlike Jack who is shallow, and self-centered. Later on in the movie the 1961 bottle of wine becomes the metaphor for enjoying life at its “peak”, a sort of “carpe diem”, savoring rather than just collecting for the sake of having, before it’s too late. Suffice it to say that for all his quirks, Miles is the hero of the story saving his friend’s marriage tho’ he doesn’t really deserve it, and maybe, just maybe, finding a new life… Definitely a have-to-see movie.

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