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A Reel Review: Sideways

A Reel Review
by James M. Gullard

Independent films seem to be on the rise recently. Commonly known as "art films," these movies have been finding loyal audiences, as well as critical and even commercial success. Last year, one of those films was "Sideways," a story about two middle-aged friends searching for love, good wine, and eventually themselves.
Miles (Paul Giamatti) is an 8th grade English teacher, but not because he wants to be one. Two years after his marriage failed, his dream career of being a novelist seemed to follow the same path. He holds on to the hope that his latest work, a semi-autobiographical book titled "The Day After Yesterday," will liberate him from his steadily rising depression.
His close friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a former actor, is getting married in a week. As Jack's best man, Miles plans a week-long bachelor party through California's wine country, but each man has a different plan for the trip. Miles has every intention of spending the week playing golf and culturing his friend in the art of wine tasting. Jack, however, wants to cherish his final week of "freedom," vowing to find female counterparts to share in their fun.
Both of them get part of what they want. Miles and Jack visit plenty of wineries, and eventually meet up with two women. Jack desires a winery employee named Stephanie (Sandra Oh), while Miles finds an unwanted, if not a surefire, attraction to Maya (Virginia Madsen), a good friend of his who works as a waitress in his favorite restaurant.
Miles, who still pines for his ex-wife, wants to spend more time with Jack, but Jack's quest leaves little room for activities that do not involve the girls. Jack tries to convince Miles that Maya is the perfect woman for him. She is beautiful, intelligent, and, most importantly, shares his love for a good pinot noir. He also swears Miles to secrecy about the upcoming wedding, a tiny detail that eventually proves more problematic than both men could ever imagine.
Based on the novel by Rex Pickett, "Sideways" has been called the "critical darling" of 2004, and it is clear to see where all of the buzz surrounding the film originates. The clever script allows for each of the actors to shine in their respective roles. Paul Giamatti (possibly the most underrated actor working today) is the heart and soul of the movie. His performance is so subtle that it becomes difficult to believe that he is even acting. Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen, both of whom received Academy Award nominations, are equally wonderful, although this is without a doubt Giamatti's film.
At the recent Independent Spirit Awards, "Sideways" won in every category it was nominated for, including three acting awards (for Giamatti, Church, and Madsen), screenplay, directing, and picture. It also won an Academy Award for its screenplay, adapted by Jim Taylor and director Alexander Payne.
Although it may not be a film for everyone's tastes, "Sideways" is like one of those rare wines that Miles describes with such passion (think "Clerks," aged 20 years). It is sweet and entertaining on the surface, yet it is also very subtle, almost so much as to perplex us as to what it is we like about it. But the point is, we still find the attraction to it, knowing that it is the best of its kind.
"Sideways" will be released on DVD on April 5.

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