>> Saturday, January 3, 2009
Sideways tells the story of one week in the lives of Miles (Paul Giamatti) and his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church), two middle-aged men on a road trip through Santa Barbara’s wine country. On the surface, the excursion is to celebrate Jack’s impending marriage. However, each of the men has their own reasons for taking the trip. Miles is looking to distract himself from his disappointments--divorce, failure to get his writing published, and an unfulfilling gig as an 8th grade English teacher. Whereas, Jack, a failed actor and serial womanizer, is mainly looking to get laid. Naturally, lots of wine guzzling is on the menu for both of them. In the course of their excursion, the boys encounter a compassionate waitress (Virginia Madsen) and a saucy wine pourer (Sandra Oh) who may provide the remedies for Miles lack of fulfillment and Jack’s sexual cravings.
Most films have little cultural impact beyond diverting an audience for a couple of hours, but Sideways changed the drinking habits of many Americans. Liquor stores across the country suddenly saw their wine sales rivaling (and in some cases surpassing) their beer sales. Moreover, Pinot Noir, a grape that most consumers had never heard of prior to the film, enjoyed a huge upswing in popularity, while Merlot sales dipped slightly. This can only be attributable to Miles’ advocacy of Pinot and denigration of the latter varietal within the movie.
Not only did Sideways benefit the wine industry, the film provided significant boosts to the careers of the four leads. Both Church and Madsen, whose stars had been on the decline, received Oscar nominations, which led to higher profile work. Sandra Oh’s stock also increased, and the role of Miles cemented Giamatti’s status as one of the top character actors of his generation. All four of the principals turn in solid performances, but Giamatti deserves extra praise for managing to convey so much heart and likeability while portraying an ill-tempered, deceitful character, seething with self-loathing.
Of course, Giamatti is aided by superb writing, which provides him with a role that is a tangled conglomeration of contradictions. Miles fancies himself a wine connoisseur; but in truth, he is simply a drunk with pretensions. He knows the wine lingo and technique, but when the going gets tough he will swill any sauce to dull the pain. Even the prized bottle in Miles’ collection, a ’61 Cheval Blanc, is a contradiction, in that it is a mix of Merlot and Cabernet Franc--the two varietals that Miles maligns in the movie.
In terms of story, direction, performances, and alcohol-content, Sideways is exceptional. In short, it is the ultimate wine film.
Drinks Consumed--Wine (Pinot Noir, Champagne, Pinot Noir Vin Gris, Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot), and beer
Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, hangover, slurred speech, staggering, public disturbance, and drinking and dialing
Potent Quotables--JACK: Do not sabotage me. If you want to be a fucking lightweight, then that's your call. But do not sabotage me.
MILES: Oh, aye-aye, cap’n. You got it.
JACK: And if they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot.
MILES: No! If anybody orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!
JACK: Okay, okay. Relax, Miles, Jesus. No Merlot. Did you bring your Xanax? (Miles takes a small bottle from his pocket and rattles it.) ‘Right. Do not drink too much. Do you hear me? I don’t want you passing out or going to the dark side. No going to the dark side!
Video Availability--Sideways (DVD) and Sideways [Blu-ray] (Fox)
Similarly Sauced Cinema--The story of how California became a serious contender in the world wine-making industry is the focus of 2008’s Bottle Shock.