- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
n the eve of a season filled with ambitious Oscar hopefuls that wouldn’t stand a chance against past losers, Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” is a refreshing glass of cinematic brilliance that supersedes the usual Hollywood fodder in place of a simple story that is filled to the brim with relatable characters and classy wine. Based on the novel by Rex Pickett and starring an incredible cast, “Sideways” is a darkly comical and courageous journey of two ordinary middle-aged men whose only aspirations are to move forward in life.
Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a failed novelist and recent divorcee who teaches middle-school English and spends his spare time as a wine connoisseur. His knowledge of wine is impeccable, and although he could probably make a career out of it, he is far too obsessed with his other faults to make the change. Jack (Thomas Hayden Church), a failed actor most known for his short stint on a daytime soap, has finally taken the dive into marriage and has devoted his last week of freedom to a planned road trip with best friend Miles through the wine country of California. As they embark on their week-long trip, Miles is intent on showing Jack a good time of wine-tasting, golf and lounging around, but Jack is also determined to get laid one last time and he’s not about to let Miles ruin all of his fun. After running into Maya (Virginia Madsen), a sexy waitress with an eye for Miles, and her wild friend Stephanie (Sandra Oh), Jack invites the two girls out for a night with the hope of scoring and helping his friend get over his emotional divorce.
“Sideways” plays a lot like the Doug Liman cult favorite, “Swingers,” as it's the only other film to handle the subject of male bonding so well. While the road trip in “Swingers” isn’t as involved as it is in “Sideways,” both films are essentially about relationships – though the latter tends to shed a little more humanity on the subject. Payne's film is also more seasoned when it comes to the wisdom that is relayed throughout the story, and where as “Swingers” was targeted more towards the younger crowd, “Sideways” is better suited for guys nearing the wrong side of 40.
Paul Giamatti is one of the most talented actors in the business, so it's nice to see him finally get his shot at playing the leading man. He's everything Hollywood isn’t (ordinary, average-looking and slightly fat), and that's why he's able to portray the average Joe so well. Church is just as entertaining in what will likely go down as the comeback role of the year, though his performance probably doesn't deserve serious award consideration. Giamatti, on the other hand, is long overdue for an Oscar after his brilliant performance in last year’s “American Splendor,” and director Alexander Payne, who has struck gold for the third time in a row, also deserves a little recognition for his work behind the camera. “Sideways” is one of those great American films you always hear about, but rarely see. Just like a glass of wine, it requires fine inspection and admiration, so drink it slowly and enjoy the ride.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
When “Sideways” was first released on DVD, fans were upset at the lack of bonus material included. Unfortunately, not a lot has changed in those four years. Though the movie does look comparably better in HD, the Blu-ray edition doesn’t contain any new material whatsoever. The original extras still appear (including a hilarious audio commentary with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church, seven deleted scenes, and a short making-of featurette), but surely Fox could have put something together to make the Blu-ray release feel more like an upgrade than a double-dip.