Directed by Alexander Payne
Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Based on the novel by Rex Pickett
As I was buying my ticket for Sideways, a man who had walked out of the previous showing said to me, “It’s so nice to be treated like an adult.” He was talking about how smart this movie is, which is certainly no surprise considering Mr. Payne’s track record: Citizen Ruth, Election and About Schmidt. All three are smart, funny films that I enjoyed and this film is a worthy addition that doesn’t diminish his canon.
Sideways tells the story of Miles, an eight-grade teacher and struggling novelist, as he takes his best friend Jack, a former soap star, to spend the week before Jack’s wedding in Santa Barbara enjoying golf, great food and, most importantly to Miles, great wine. Miles is a connoisseur and has spent a lot of time visiting the region and enjoying its many varieties. Jack’s main interest in wine comes from its potential to get him laid, which he hopes to do as much as possible during his last week of freedom. Wine is so important to Miles that he won’t drink merlot even if it would help him with women.
During a winery tasting, Jack meets Stephanie and they set up a double date between Miles and Maya, who Miles already knows from his many visits. After dinner, they go to Stephanie’s home. Jack and Stephanie hit the bedroom pretty quick while Miles and Maya spend time talking. Not only do we watch the relationships of the two couples over the remainder of the week, but we also learn more about the friendship of Miles and Jack.
The script is well written. It creates real, believable characters that are brought to life by the amazing cast. The four principles are very strong, especially Paul Giamatti as Miles, a man who has to blend the way the world works with the way he thinks it should work.
The setting is fresh and presents a world many have not seen before in a story: Santa Barbara wine country and the culture of wine. In fact, wine is used throughout the story. It gives the characters something to do and they show us who they are through the wine they enjoy. Miles is an encyclopedia of knowledge and is very particular in what he likes. On the other hand, Jack chugs entire glasses and has the same reaction to every type. Wine is also a metaphor for life.
This film should be enjoyed right away like a Zefina Winery Serience Red 2001 to encourage others to make more like it, but it will certainly get better with age like a Gewurztraminer Osterberg Grand Cru 1998.
Payne also gets points for entry into the pantehon for saying, “That [Chris] Columbus guy isn't such a great director,” from his Onion Interview.