Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Flick of The Day: Sideways

Paul Giamatti is perhaps my favourite actor working in American cinema today. From small roles in blockbusters to the quirky star of independent films like American Splendor, he has built a reputation as talented actor with a no nonsense attitude to work. This has seen him work with some of the best and the worst of Hollywood, from George Clooney to Martin Lawrence, Today's flick of the day is one of his best performances, Alexander Payne's Sideways.
Failed novelist Miles, played by Giamatti, is a long suffering friend of Jack, played by Thomas Haden Church an equally failed TV actor. Jack is getting married on Saturday and for his final week as a batchelor, Miles is taking him on a trip around Californian wine country. Both have different motivations for going on the trip with a depressed Miles looking to relax and Jack more concerned with sowing those last few oats. Before long they meet two interesting new women, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. As the week progresses, they have to reassess their own relationship and their lives as they look toward the oncoming train of middle age.
For a film about something generally considered as a downer topic, dealing with growing up and old, this is a very funny film at times. This is largely because of the fine chemistry between the leads. Giamatti brings a dark manic streak to Miles, and you can sense that a breakdown is only ever just below the surface. Haden Church is the perfect foil as the unbelievably crass and conniving Jack. 

Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot. 
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!

There is something about sad sack characters that brings out the best in Giamatti as an actor. Who could forget his equally entertaining portrayal of cartoonist Harvey Pekar in American Splendor?
Like so many of Alexander Payne's films, it is held together by some great dialogue which draws such performances from the cast. Madsen and Oh are no less interesting for being out of the films spotlight, in a particularly fine scene they each explain their love of wine and how it has shaped their life.

" I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your '61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline."

The rise and fall of a good wine is surely a metaphor for life itself with its peaks and troughs. If there is another important character in the film, it is the Californian countryside. The vineyard lined roads and the sun dappled fields are at the heart of the story as these people enjoy one last week of fun in this modern Eden.
A really lovely film, it is a fine portrayal of male friendship and of the perils of growing old or in Jack's case of never growing up in the first place. It is worth the price of admission for the early morning burglary scene alone. It is moving at times and you would have to have a hard heart not to fall for the characters. Each actor went on to bigger things and it was very much a stepping stone movie. Haden Church and Madsen were both nominated for Oscars and Sandra Oh became a TV star with Greys Anatomy. All in all, a film you just have to see.

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