About Us

Contact Us


The 21st Century

Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
Lifestyles 1
Lifestyles 2

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

Someone 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 isn’t? Fact is, Sideways is a road movie and a damn good one.
It has a simple plot, two middle-aged guys who haven’t 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.

It’s 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 don’t 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 he’d 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 Victoria’s eyes. She is rich, he is poor, and won’t 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 can’t 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

Sam North is the author of the historical novel Diamonds – The Rush of ‘72


© Hackwriters 1999-2005 all rights reserved