Over the years, there have been many celebrities from other mediums (television, music, etc.) that try to break their way into the film world as if it was an easy transition. They think that if they can perform in front of an arena full of fans or a studio audience, performing in front of a camera will be no trouble. Many of them, like Richard Grieco, get one shot (“If Looks Could Kill”) and head straight to video hell for the rest of their days. Others just need the right direction. Paul Thomas Anderson was the man with Mark Wahlberg (“Boogie Nights”) and Peter Weir showed the world that Jim Carrey can do something other than talk with his a*s (“The Truman Show”). Now Alexander Payne can be added to the list with the work that Thomas Haden Church (of “Wings” fame) has showcased in “Sideways” and the film itself can proudly be labeled as one of the year’s best films.
The film follows the adventures of Miles and Jack (who is about to be married) as they take a week long road trip through California’s wine country. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is a shy, insecure and sensitive 8th grade teacher/failed novelist who tries his best to distract attention from himself. He is the most insane kind of wine aficionado and all he wants from this trip is to play some golf, relax and sample some fine wines. Jack (Church), on the other hand, is the complete opposite. He is obnoxious, loud, and oblivious to everything in this world except which woman he is going to sleep with next, which he sees this trip as a perfect opportunity for. This clash of personality between them is what makes the friendship work so well because they both need each other for different reasons.
Jack finally gets his wish when he meets up with Stephanie (Sandra Oh) at a local vineyard and coincidentally, she happens to be friends with Maya (Virginia Madsen) who is a waitress (and a wine connoisseur) at a local restaurant that Miles has admired for sometime but never had the nerve to speak with. The rest of the film then centers on Miles and his newfound struggle to open his eyes and let go of his previous relationship (a two-year old divorce), and deal with the complications Jack is making with Stephanie once she finds out about his marriage engagement.
“Sideways” is a story about not living life to the fullest. It is about letting yourself go and trying something new no matter how scary it may seem. It is a brilliant picture about success and failure, new marriages and old divorces, and heartache and friendship. The honest and touching screenplay of this film receives both fine direction and careful performances from all of the actors involved, and those serious subject matters are broken up with the perfect mixture of subtle humor. With only four feature films under his belt, Alexander Payne is becoming one of the greatest American directors of modern cinema and again, “Sideways” is on its way to being one of the best films of the year.