Review: Sideways (2004)

>> Saturday, January 3, 2009

USA/C-126m./Dir: Alexander Payne/Wr: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor (based on the Rex Pickett novel)/Cast: Paul Giamatti (Miles), Thomas Hayden Church (Jack), Virginia Madsen (Maya), Sandra Oh (Stephanie)

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!
MILES: Okay!

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.


Neil Fulwood January 8, 2009 at 8:29 AM  

Great post. 'Sideways' is one of my all-time faves and you've eloquently and succinctly nailed what makes it great.


Larry The Kidman January 10, 2009 at 9:26 AM  

great blog concept...enjoyed looking ............Frank Sinatra said " I feel sorry for people who don't drink, when they wake up in the morning thats as good as they're going to feel all day "

Erich Kuersten January 11, 2009 at 12:31 AM  

God bless you, sir. I just found this blog by looking for images of Under the Volcano to steal for a blog entry on Bright Lights. This site reminds me of my salad days, when i used to shoot sheep in the Himalayas, dragging my canoe behind me! Now of course I touch nothing stronger than buttermilk...

My own site is, which also condones heavy drinking in all its cinematic forms. I've also written for MODERN DRUNKARD!!! Sir, I raise my glass to you for your excellent work.

Keroro-lover January 16, 2009 at 9:56 AM  

wow... nice blog buddy... if u have time plz also take some time to visit my blog

it's a place where u can download movies for free!!

edP January 19, 2009 at 7:24 PM  

Sideways has one of the best movie endings of all time! It makes so much sense

nonviolentjay January 23, 2009 at 8:38 PM  

All this reading has gotten me thirsty.

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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