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film review: Sideways

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Sideways is receiving a lot of critical praise and it is one of the better films of the year, so far.

Two friends head out to California’s wine country, to spend a week together before one of, Jack, gets married. Jack is a former TV actor, still handsome in his forties, but now relegated to voice overs. He’s intellectually lacking but also charming and fun in an immature, carefree way. Miles is a divorced English teacher who is obviously full of hang-ups, not the least of which relate to his divorce. He is a wine connoisseur and becomes even more driven to drink, when, on the trip, he discovers that his ex-wife remarried and will be bringing her new husband to the wedding.

Jack’s main mission for the week, though, is to get laid before he gets hitched. Along the way, they meet two ladies who appear to fit the bill for each of them. Stephanie (Sandra Oh) is a wild and free spirit, like Jack, while Maya (Virgina Madsen) is more laid back and happens to be another wine connoisseur. Madsen’s character is also an intellectual like Miles and the two have an obvious but somewhat tentative attraction to each other.

The camera loves Virginia Madsen. Seeing her through Miles’ eyes, you can’t help but be intrigued and captivated by her. In one scene, they both explain their attraction for some specific wine and through her explanation, she cleverly reveals how she’s attracted to Miles. You can pretty much guess who the awkward Miles responds.

What makes this film work is the realistic tension exhibited by Miles. He’s tired of his job and is a hoping to be picked up by a publisher as a first time author. Paul Giamatti’s performance is never dull because we can relate to his bruised self- esteem and he doesn’t conveniently end up in unrealistic happy situations.

The scenery in the valley was attractive enough to have some of the audience comment on how they would like to go there on a wine-tasting tour.

This is another film where you’re not positive what will happen next but you watch because the film stays within realistic parameters. There’s nothing outrageously far-fetched about it, save for the wallet retrieval scene, which is really funny.

Sideways isn’t as funny as the trailers tried to suggest but it brings up bittersweet emotions without gratuitous “crutches” that most films rely on, in the absence of a quality script or direction.

Director Alexander Payne was also responsible for the excellent films About Schmidt and Election.

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About Triniman

Almost weekly, Triniman catches new movies, and adds one or two CDs to his collection. Due to time constraints, he blogs about only 5% of the CDs, books and DVDs that he purchases. Holed up in the geographic centre of North America, the cultural mecca of Canada, and the sunniest city north of the 49th, Winnipeg, Triniman blogs a bit when he's not swatting mosquitoes, shoveling snow or golfing.