A smart comedy? Do those two words even belong in the same sentence when discussing a Hollywood movie? They do if you’re referring to Sideways, the latest film from About Schmidt creator Alexander Payne.
Sideways is the simple, yet profound story of aspiring novelist and midlife crisis candidate Miles (Paul Giamatti), who takes his old college roommate Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a week-long wine tasting trip as a final “guys getaway” before Jack is married. Soon, Miles finds himself in the company of Maya, a local waitress (Virginia Madsen) who shares his passion for wine, while Jack hooks up with the feisty Stephanie (Sandra Oh).
What sounds like a lame “road trip” plot cribbed from one of the American Pie movies becomes so much more in the hands of Director/Co-writer Payne, who manages to convey both humor and pathos in this story of two friends traveling in different directions – men who don’t have much in common anymore, other than the fact that they used to live together during their freshman year of college.
Giamatti, who has disappointment and despair etched across his face, plays his scenes with Madsen so beautifully, with such understatement, that you find yourself smiling at the sheer simplicity of their courtship. These are two characters who have experienced their share of failure and heartache; rooting for them is easy because of how real and imperfect they are.
The most wonderful thing about Sideways is how subtle all of the performances are. Although it is an actor’s showcase, and the four leads uniformly shine in their respective roles, there is no scenery chewing to speak of.
Sideways is that rare Hollywood animal: a funny, sad, romantic film – made by, and for, adults.