Sideways – A perfect film?


Directed by Alexandre Payne.

Novel by Rex Pickett.

Screenplay by Alexandre Payne and Jim Taylor.

Produced by Michael London and George Parra.

Production companies: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Michael London Productions, Sideways Productions Inc.

UK release date: 28th January 2005.

Review may contain spoilers. 

Dare I say it, a perfect film?

I wish I had seen this film back when it was released in January 2005 so that I could have viewed it at least ten times by now. It depicts so much about life as a body of expression, our search for a better life as human beings, the disconcerting notion of growing old, relationships and more ineptly, the search for woman (sex) and wine. Wine is uniquely symbolic in the film; the exploration of the vineyards by the two main protagonists ultimately sanctions them to search for their identities.

This vineyard trip which some may prefer to call a road trip – though this film does not discernibly conform to those injudicious ‘road trip’ genre conventions like most – takes place throughout California’s wine country. Miles (Paul Giamatti) is an expert on the subject and takes pride in sharing his knowledge with his best friend, and decadent actor from College, Jack (Thomas Haden Church) who is more concerned about getting laid with as many woman as possible before getting married.

The two characters serve wholly contradictory views and attitudes towards life. Keeping it concise, a common stereotyping of Jack would be ‘that guy who never grew up’, whereas Miles is ‘that anxious kid who never ‘came out’’. Their dialogue interlaces perfectly, generating a constant battle for integrity between the two, not to mention that the performances are flawless in cadence and pertinent reality.

Another perfect construction of this film lies in the well-executed linear narrative as it counts down the days of the week, arguably as if each day accounts for a separate chapter in the story (shown on-screen with title cards). This storytelling essentially increases the audience’s apprehension to find out if all will resolve itself come the Saturday of the wedding. For a lousy period, I thought the film might suddenly turn out like The Hangover, but soon realised that would not happen due to how impeccable the script had been thus far. Fortunately, the underlying meaning of the film was kept at the forefront and the shabby moments of hysterics, all to common in contemporary comedy, kept to a credible minimum. Credit to an excellent screenplay treatment of Rex Pickett’s novel by Alexander Payne and fellow writer Jim Taylor; a significantly efficacious writing partnership retrospectively winning the Oscar for best adapted screenplay that year.

There is still more to this film than first meets the eye. Payne immediately puts the audience into the life of a depressive, recently divorced, middle-aged man who is consistently failing to get his book published and ultimately struggling to get any where with life; a somewhat common beginning to a film indeed. However, through a great deal of primeval characterisation, the film evolves to reveal the inner secrets and constraints of this character almost immediately; a delineation of the character develops to an even greater extent than Tarantino achieves for his quirky, profane gangster figures. It is not only our main protagonist Miles who is beautifully characterised, as Jack (arguably a main protagonist) and Maya (Virginia Madsen) were in fact both nominated for Oscars in supporting roles.

Moreover, Sideways is actually a love story; a love story which embraces more than one form; a love story that discloses inner secrets and certainly one whereby binary oppositions are displayed in great breadth – marriage vs. divorce, love vs. sex, depression vs. feigning, lonesome vs. prevalent etc.

Sideways is two hours of viewing pleasure that will leave you with a warm heart and in a state of positive reflection.

Lastly but not least, the film does what any film (story) is conventionally supposed to, and that is simply to take the viewer on a journey alongside a fascinating character, and a remarkable one that this is.


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