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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Merie W. Wallace)

photo caption:
SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS: On a double date, Stephanie (Jackie Oh, left), Jack (Thomas Haden Church), Maya (Virginia Madden), and Miles (Paul Giametti, right) spend a delightful afternoon enjoying each others company while sampling the wines available in California's famous wine region.
end caption.

Sideways: Mid-Life Crisis Drama/Comedy Set in California Wine Country

Review by Kam Williams

Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is in the throes of a mid-life crisis. The San Diego junior high school teacher thinks of himself as a novelist even though he's never been able to interest any publisher in his manuscripts. He's still attached to his ex-wife who has already found another mate for herself. Miles, without looks or money, has low self-esteem and consequently has no self-confidence whenever he's in the company of a woman who is a potential companion.

Miles's former college roommate, Jack Lopate (Thomas Haden Church), is a handsome playboy living in Los Angeles. Except he's now on the downside of a so-so television career and is now getting bit roles and work in commercials. As the story opens, the over-the-hill actor is scheduled to be married in one week to his fiancée Christine (Alysia Reiner).

While his bride-to-be attends to the last-minute details for their big church wedding, Jack accepts Miles's offer of a seven-day vacation in the California wine country which will feature rounds of golf, wine tasting, and male bonding. The duo proceed to drive north together, though it soon becomes apparent that each has a distinctly different idea of how to best spend their time together.

Jack intends to flirt with anything in a skirt, hoping for a final fling before his marriage, while wine connoisseur Miles looks forward to sampling the offerings of the various area vineyards. Although their methods of dealing with denial are different, it becomes clear that they share a desire to recapture their fading youth and their youthful ambitions.

This is the premise underlying Sideways which was written and directed by Alexander Payne (About Schmidt). The film received the Golden Globe Best Picture Award in the comedy category, although it might be better described as a dramatic comedy, because its best moments involve explorations of themes touching on trust, love, aging, fidelity, fame, and the meaning of life. The movie, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Rex Picket, also won the award for best script.

Paul Giamatti, son of the late Bart Giamatti (fomer president of Yale University who later became the baseball commissioner), steals virtually every scene as Miles. He has had similar roles before in Big Fat Liar, Private Parts, Duets, and American Splendor.

The other three principals – Thomas Haden Church's jaunty Jack; Sandra Oh as Stephanie, a vulnerable single-mom; and Virginia Madsden as Maya, a sensitive waitress who appreciate Miles, neuroses and all; – each make major contributions to the success of the film.

Sideways keeps you in stitches with scene after sidesplitting scene, although Jack's immaturity borders on being cartoonish. Otherwise, the rest of the action rings true, especially the detailed discourses on wine appreciation.

You may find yourself remembering the tips picked up in the movie the next time you visit a liquor store and perhaps you will then toast this terrific independent production.

Excellent (4 stars). Rating: R for expletives, adult themes, graphic sexuality, and nudity. Running time: 123 minutes. Studio: Fox Searchlight.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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