SIDEWAYS (Alexander Payne, 2004)
English teacher and failed novelist Miles Raymond and his actor friend Jack take a week-long tour of California wine country in SIDEWAYS, the new film from director Alexander Payne. Paul Giamatti stars as the depressed and divorced Miles. Thomas Haden Church is the freewheeling Jack. He’s looking to blow off some steam before he gets married at the end of the week. If Jack can help Miles forget about his ex-wife, all the better. Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh play the women the guys meet.
Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor favor prickly characters. Miles joins Laura Dern’s pregnant patio sealant huffer in CITIZEN RUTH, Reese Witherspoon’s excessively ambitious student in ELECTION, and Jack Nicholson’s curmudgeon in ABOUT SCHMIDT. Payne and Taylor excel at getting underneath these tough exteriors and portray these people for what they are, warts and all. Payne’s fluid direction and the four principal actors’ sterling performances in SIDEWAYS bring out the characters’ humanity with humor and deep feeling. Giamatti is especially good as Miles, a wounded man aware of who he is but incapable of letting others see it. The comedy and drama of these rich characters’ lives make SIDEWAYS a film to be savored.
(Review first aired on the November 23, 2004 NOW PLAYING)