Sideways Sees Unlikely Friends Romping in Wine Country

Sideways, the much-touted independent film that won the 2004 Golden Globe award for best picture and received five Academy Award nominations, is a buddy film set in the Santa Barbara Valley wine country.

Based on the novel by Rex Pickett, Sideways follows the antics of Miles (played by Paul Giamatti) and Jack (played by Thomas Haden Church), college roommates who have stayed good friends even though their lives have taken divergent paths, on one last trip together before Jack gets married at the end of the week.

Miles is a divorced writer and middle school English teacher who is struggling with depression, getting his book published, and finding a way to give his life meaning as he approaches middle age.

Jack, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about the meaning of life. To him, life is one big party held entirely for his benefit. They are unlikely friends, to be sure.

The first day of their romp thru the central wine coast, Miles and Jack meet two local women, Maya (played very well by Virginia Madsen), a horticulture student and restaurant server and Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a pourer at a local winery.

Jack is smitten by Stephanie, even though his wedding is only days away, and jumps into an affair with her. Miles, somewhat appalled by Jack’s behavior, nonetheless, finds Maya kind, smart, and charming, and they begin dating.

Directed by Alexander Payne (Election and About Schmidt), “Sideways” is worth seeing just for the beautiful views of California’s central coast. The characters, however, fail to develop into real people with whom the reader can identify.

The nuances in the novel that make Miles and Jack endearing, despite their shortcomings, are largely absent in the film. Instead, we see Miles as neurotic and Jack as sexist and shallow.

A couple of politically incorrect scenes in the movie are not funny; they are just wrong. Sideways had the potential to be a poignant, witty story about the frailty and quirks of human nature. Instead, it settles for cheap one-liners and weak plot lines. Sideways could have been so much better.

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