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May 21, 2015

Sideways (2004)
Director: Alexander Payne
Actors: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen

sideways.jpg (275×183)

Synopsis: Forty-something pals, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), embark on a ‘Stag tour’ through the Santa Ynez Wine Valley. Jack, the impending groom, is intent on one last sowing of his wild oats, while Miles, a High School English teacher and frustrated novelist, is more interested in indulging his oenophilia and keeping a lid on his encroaching depression.

Review: Sideways is a near perfect exercise in classic storytelling, and exemplar of the Alexander Payne ‘American Gothic’ road trip template that has provided such a conveyor belt of gems over the last couple of decades. To call it a calculatingly proficient film trotting through the standard Payne ingredients (a central hook/mission, the main character undergoing a semblance of ‘growth’, a general air of light satire and whimsy masking a deeper melancholy) would underplay just how distinctive and intuitively right the whole film feels.

Payne films it in a knowingly pretence-free, downbeat manner – much like a TV movie with the lack of A-list actors, the ‘easy listening’ music score, the unglitzy opening credits and intertitles, the slightly naff use of split-screen – and this suits the ambience of the ‘everyday’ scenario of unremarkable forty-something guys going out on a drinking holiday. And even though there is a ‘high concept’ farce side to proceedings, it’s underscored by an inherently wise and truthful undertow – from the pitch-perfect performances by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, and the sense that these two middle-aged men have reached respective crisis points as their lives drift ‘sideways’, to the probing of even deeper, endemic issues – alcoholism, sex addition, depression and bereavement. (May 2015)

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