The Review/Short Read/

Hump Day Movie: Sideways

Nothing beats a summery romance in wine country

Jun 22, 2016

Summer has arrived, and with it, patios across this great nation have opened themselves to the possibility of exceptional revelry. Friends will meet. Some people will order tapas. Other people, who are confused by the concept of tapas, will want to "order their own thing, because they just feel more comfortable doing that, okay?" I will probably get a sunburn on only one side of my body because the world is a cruel, unforgiving place.

And I will surely be drinking wine, much like the protagonists of Sideways. Directed and co-written by Alexander Payne (who will be at TIFF Bell Lightbox to introduce William A. Wellman's 1951 western Westward The Women on Sunday, June 26!), Sideways tells the story of Miles (Paul Giamatti), an amateur wine connoisseur, author and professional sad-sack middle school teacher. Recently divorced, Miles plans a bachelor party for his soon-to-be-married former college roommate Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) in California wine country. Jack is an unsuccessful actor, charming and jocular, and together they set off for their weekend.

There, they meet two women: Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress over whom Miles has pined for years, and Stephanie (Canada's sweetheart Sandra Oh), a wine pourer, to whom Jack is immediately attracted. Jack sets up a double date, staging the drama for this extended bachelor weekend. Miles and Maya become close, Jack and Stephanie become closer, and the real world seems very far away.

While he still longs for his ex-wife, Maya creates the possibility of escape from Miles' depressive ways. She is quiet and kind and listens to him. Their conversations make Payne's text sing, especially in a quiet scene outside. As they discuss their shared love of wine, they discuss themselves, beginning to make a true and honest connection. What follows in the film vacillates from slapstick to nigh-tragic. Mis­un­der­stand­ings and realizations of unfortunate truths compound themselves, as a simple bachelor weekend gets more and more complicated.

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Miles and Jack are definitely the worst, but they're also part of a whole. Payne deftly directs what is effectively a four-hander, quietly turning the film into a character study on alcoholism, longing, friendship and the need for human connection. Order yourself up a buttery chardonnay and enjoy this lovely summer film.