The International Writers Magazine:
Written and Directed by Alexander Payne (About Schmidt) based
on the novel by Rex Pickett
Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church,
Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke
wrote to me recently and asked me if Sideways was officially
a road movie. Hmm. Is there a Road Movie police? Will Dick Cheney
lock us up in Guantanamo if we say it isnt? Fact is, Sideways
is a road movie and a damn good one.
has a simple plot, two middle-aged guys who havent reached
anywhere near their potential in life take a road trip in Napa
Valley, one week before one of them, Jack, played with gusto by
Thomas Haden Church, is due to get married to the lovely Victoria.
an escape from reality into unreality, but oddly enough, given their
ages, it is also a coming of age picture. The road, as often stated,
educates us, makes us face up to who we are and what we are escaping.
Miles played brilliantly
by Paul Giamatti may be a middle-english teacher at a school in San
Diego with several rejected novels under his belt, but away from the
hum and drum of his life, he is an expert oenophile (wine lover). In
Napa they dont care what you do or what you are, if you know your
wine, you are welcome. In Napa, Miles is Superman, in San Diego Clarke
Kent. Or something like. He is well liked, respected and clearly has
an established relationship with a small group of waiters, barman and
vineyards. This is where he goes to be who hed like to be.
Jack, a failed soap opera actor, now doing voice-overs, has struck lucky,
he is due to marry Victoria, the daughter of a rich Armenian construction
family. But, he is full of doubts, about himself, his ability to commit,
settle down, and of course, validate himself in Victorias eyes.
She is rich, he is poor, and wont she resent that?
The road trip is designed to leave both of themselves behind and rekindle
college days, carefree moments when the future seems possible.
Of course there is baggage. Miles is getting therapy for depression
and drugs to deal with it, he is anxious about his latest novel; awaiting
a decision from a publisher about it. Jack is just like a dog on heat,
anything that moves he wants to hump, as if marriage and monogamy is
a jail sentence rather than an escape in luxury.
Two men, utterly incompatible, - ex-college roomies, on the road to
rediscover themselves. Of course Miles has one plan (to see the vineyards
and educate jack to wine) Jack has a plan to get laid as often as possible
and even, generously, set up Miles for a good time on the way. (He does
this by boosting Miles and telling everyone he is about to have his
book published, much to Miles's embarassement.
So its a road adventure, but in a concentric circle, as they based
at the Windmill Motel whilst they go to sample wines in the vineyards.
At the motel Jack notices that Mia, the lovely waitress (Virginia Madsen)
really likes and respects Miles, but Miles is too down on himself to
acknowledge it. He schemes to get them together (which might take some
browbeating). LAter Jack discovers Stephanie (Sandra Oh) at a vineyard
and realises she is up for it.
So will Miles get Mia, will Jack get Stephanie and will Jack mention
that he is about to get married on Saturday?
Alexander Payne concentrates on the humanity of the characters, plot
is minimal, and to some extent this film borrows something from a French
Road movie Le Bonheur est dans le pré by Etienne Chatiliez
(OK there is no striking workforce in Sideways, but once the
boss leaves and hits the road, there are similarities). Virginia Madsen
is wonderful and when she finally gets Miles to open up and talk about
wine (whilst Jack is humping Stephanie in the bedroom) you can see that
she really likes him despite the fact that what Miles is actually
talking about his himself as a vine that can only grow in a particular
place and needs lots of attention to get to its full potential. She
even offers to read his unpublished novel (every writers dream as of
course, no one ever really offers to read your book unless they are
in love with you).
Jack is beginning to think he has made a terrible mistake in getting
married and really likes Stephanie, but the truth is he likes any woman
and its Miles who has to extract him from trouble when he dips
his wick in the wrong place. Worse, once Stephanie discovers Jack is
a lying twister just out to get laid
she is devastated and Jack
gets his come-uppance in the car park.
The ending is beautifully played, resulting in Miles getting his car
wrecked and although there probably is a rule that road movies cant
end happily, this one does and leaves us with hope. Hope is a good feeling.
Once can see why it has resonated so well with cinemagoers and the Oscars.
© Sam North Feb 3rd 2005
This is an extract from the extended essay on Road Movies by Sam North
Read more about
Road Movies here
is the author of the historical novel Diamonds
The Rush of 72
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