Saturday, April 20, 2013

April Blind Spot: Sideways(2004)

I needed something recent this month to satisfy by idiosyncrasies of the list making that I talked about in the last post and though I have strayed a bit from it already, preferably something from the '1001 Movies' to comply with my idea of watching movies from the list all month. Considering all these boundaries I've put on myself, I think I only had one choice - Alexander Payne's Sideways(2004), a movie I have been meaning to watch for almost a year based on countless recommendations it has received. 

First and foremost, what makes this a Blind Spot movie? In other words, why is this film essential?
In all honesty, there is only one reason - Alexander Payne. Alexander Payne really impressed me with The Descendants(2011) and even more so with Election(1999) which I saw afterwards. When I wanted to include one of the recent movies in this year’s list, Sideways was the first one that came to my mind because I’ve heard so much about this movie. It is considered as one of the best movies made in recent years. Almost every list includes it as one of the best of the decade. It is one of the few movies of the recent years that are equally lauded by critics as well as masses and still unseen by me. I guess that is what this Blind Spot series is for – to knock off such titles.

So, what is the story about?
Jack and Miles have been friends since their freshman year in college. Now they are both leaning towards middle age and Jack is about to get married. Before he does, these two best friends set out for a week to have a good time. Miles, who has been a long time wine enthusiast, takes his friend to the wine country in California where plan is to hit different vineyards tasting fine wine, play some golf and send Jack off to his married life. Jack however has his own plan. He desperately wants to have one last fling before getting married. Miles and Jack, despite being best friends, are very different people. Miles is a middle school English teacher and struggling writer who is trying to get published. He is divorced and is fighting with depression ever since. Jack is an actor though not much successful. Some people recognize him but most won't. However, more importantly, he is happy-go-lucky kind of person who just goes from one mistake to another. He is like a small child in many ways who has to have a certain toy regardless of everything else.

Miles is a kind of known face in wine country and has many friends and acquaintances there, one of which is Maya. Maya is a hotel waitress they meet on the first day and Jack immediately fancies her but it looks like she is more interested in Miles. In one of the wineries they also meet Stephanie, who is more adventurous kind, more like Jack’s type. Jack and Stephanie hit it off immediately and in a typical fashion, he just doesn’t get where to stop. Jack gets his fling and as you would expect, Miles and Maya struggle though eventually find some common ground to connect to each other. However Jack’s impending nuptial, which they have kept secret from their female friends, plays its part in both their relationships. In a typical Alexander Payne style, it is much more interested in progression of the characters in a limited space than story and once again he succeeds in making audience care for them, even at their worst, with his pen.

What did I think of it? What did I like the most about it and what didn't I like?
Like any other Payne movie, its characters and the way he portrays them in his screenplay is by far the best thing about Sideways and is underlined by his Oscar win. It is very typical of him to have characters that talk and walk and behave like normal, real people we see every day around us like Shailene Woodley’s Alex or to take a clown of a character who you would think has nothing more to do than give us something to laugh at and then give him such an amazing depth like Sid in The Descendants. Thomas Haden Church and his Jack fit into that definition too. He is very easy to just call a terrible person and hate based on sheer stupidity of his actions in movie but Payne gives his character much more depth that makes it difficult to just brush off as one-dimensional. However, I think Maya here is that typical Payne character. Very natural, very real in her acting, someone that probably will not catch your eye the first time you see her but Payne brings her out so well and Virginia Madsen who stamped it with an Oscar nod. Paul Giamatti who is at the center of it all is obviously superb in it and deserves a lot of credit for it. He and Maya talking about Pinot sitting in Stephanie’s porch was my favourite scene of the movie that showcases everything that is good about this movie.

Another notable thing about Sideways is its humour. It’s different from what we are used to, very subtle and mostly comes from the situations characters find themselves in. There are many elements in it, especially concerning Jack and all his adventures that would make it an adult comedy but it never makes any crass jokes about any of them. Plus all the talk about wine was interesting. I don't understand anything about it; I don't even drink but the passion with which they talk about it, especially Paul Giamatti, was intriguing  Overall, I liked it. It is not Payne’s best work, I still think that is Election but I don’t have anything particularly negative to say about it. My only complaint is despite everything I liked about this movie, I still have a lingering feeling of disappointment somewhere. It might just be that I had lot more expectations from it after all the praise I heard of it but in all fairness, that is not something I shall hold against it. I’ll try not to.

After having seen it, do I agree with its 'essential' status? And why?
This is where I kind of struggle to articulate an exact response of how I feel about it. From whatever I have written above, it should be ample clear that I like this film. Yes, I don’t think it is Payne’s best work but that is more of a compliment to his resume than a dig against Sideways. However, I don’t think I have got enough from this film to justify this essential status. Reason I am faltering to substantiate this is there is no checklist in my mind to qualify for such a tag, it is all very subjective. There is also personal tendency of mine not to call many recent films essentials or classics. There are likes of The Dark Knight(2008) or There Will be Blood(2007) that I will not hesitate a heartbeat to put into that category but it definitely doesn’t reach that status for me; it didn’t even clear ‘one of the best of the decade’ bar for me. It is a good movie that I will definitely recommend to others but unfortunately I don’t think that qualifies it to be an ‘essential’ film in your film knowledge.

Does it open few new doors for me? Does this inspire to watch any other movies?
Once again, it is more about wrapping the things up than opening new avenues. Since I saw The Descendants in theater last year, I have been meaning to get more of Alexander Payne and with Sideways, I have pretty much seen all of his feature films except The Passion of Martin(1991), which actually I haven't even heard of anywhere. He was someone I was looking forward to watch more of and I have to say that he has never disappointed me yet. His subtle humour, very real and easily relatable characters and his screenplays have always fascinated me. I might even try and find this last one just so I can get to profile.


  1. Happy you finally got to see this. I am one of those who does think Sideways is among the best of the decade, but to each his own!

    Agree the characters are well-written, and I think P Giamatti, T Haden-Church and V Madsen are perfectly cast.
    I heard the director's next film Nebraska is also a road movie, can't wait.

    1. Hey I liked this movie. I just don't think it's up there for me as for many others.

      When I did my Films I am looking forward to in 2013 post, I inexplicably left out Nebraska. I can't wait for it either. Payne hasn't disappointed me yet.

  2. Just watched this recently with my buddy who loves this film more than me, but I think I'm starting to get there. The movie has never been a bad watch for me, but it's always left me entertained, happy, and sad at times too. I do think that by the time I'm 40, this movie will hit me harder, but as for right now while I revel in the age of 19; it's as good as I'll get. Nice review. Glad to see it still holds up.

    1. That's a very good point Dan and I have to agree with you that it will mean much more to us as we get little old--err. :) I enjoyed this movie too. Lets see how it evolves for me, if at all it does.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. I haven't seen Sideways so it looks like I'll have to change that soon. Like you, I'm interested in Payne but haven't seen nearly as many of his films as I should have by now. Thanks for the reminder to seek him out!

    1. Happy to help. I know I needed a few before I got there. :)

  4. I like the film too, but I don't think it's one of the best of the decade either. Though I've probably seen it over five times, it hasn't held up for me. (I first saw it in its original theatrical run.) I love the performances, writing, and score, though.

    Also, I agree on Election. I still think it's Payne's best film.

    1. We are very much in synch here. Off course, I will have to wait and see if it holds up on re-watches.

      Thanks Josh!!


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