Sunday, January 14, 2007

Finally, 'Sideways'

It took me two years but I finally got around to watching Sideways last night. Sober! Which is good; I might have fallen asleep otherwise. That's not to say anything about the film; that's just to say that I am a sleepy drunk, no matter what stimuli jockey for my attention.

The film was great. A solid story featuring real people with real flaws and real vulnerabilities — not to mention real looks — in real situations is kind of hard to come by these days in the comedy genre. Or any genre, except maybe all them wacky foreign movies. Paul Giamatti is a master of the surly and smart creative everyman (again, as he nailed Harvey Pekar a few years ago, too). His ability to communicate rage and defeat just by a twitch of his brow and a clench of his jaw is superb. (Too bad Lady in the Water sucked so bad, dude. My condolences. I couldn't even make it to the end of that flick.) Thomas Haden Church plays the aging frat boy/charmer with such slimy ease that I kind of feel like maybe he wasn't doing too much acting. Virginia Madsen, who I have never really cared for before because of her overwhelming vanilla-ness, was warm and smart. And Sandra Oh is just fabulous in anything she does, especially if she gets to beat the shit out of womanizers with a motorcycle helmet.

You can't help but feel squeamish as you root for Miles, seeing as he is sort of insufferable and dishonest and all (he stole money from his mom!) But compared to Jack, Miles is the Pope incarnate. Jack might be larger than life and the type to relish the spotlight while Miles slinks into a corner, but he's a total self-centered jerk. Well, they're both kind of self-centered jerks. KIND OF LIKE US ALL.

Of course the scene that had everyone buzzing is the Miles-Maya conversation about wine, in which Miles describes why he loves pinot noir, which becomes a metaphor for how he sees himself. It's a beautiful scene, almost painfully so, when you consider the paper-thin discomfort separating Miles and Maya, and the way Maya so warmly tries to bridge the gap but is ultimately awkwardly rebuffed by a nervous Miles. It's just so fucking perfect, that scene. The dude realizing after the woman has made a move that he missed his opportunity to do his part, and then trying to come in and do the duty after the moment has passed. It's humiliating and if we haven't all been there yet, then by god we will be some day.

We're all supposed to see a little bit of ourselves in this movie, if we're obsessed with self-definition (like we are; don't deny it). And, in me, I see the surly and anti-social behaviors of Miles mixed caustically with the completely irreverent and ignorant tendencies of Jack. Miles has enough patience for wine to spend time with it, sniffing, looking, thinking, then tasting. Jack throws that shit back and says, "It tastes fine to me!"

In many ways, I feel like I do the same thing. Which, really, is fine. It's a learning process. It's much more easy to learn to be less like Jack than to learn to be less like Miles — someone whose expectations are always so high that they can never be met, someone who is so socially awkward that he can barely even stand conversations with people he doesn't know but who he admires. Someone whose life is playing out very differently from how he had envisioned.

I think Miles' loving description of the finicky pinot noir is so sweet. Before I'd ever seen this movie, I'd decided that pinot was the varietal that played nicest with my palate, so what a surprise it was to see it given the attention this movie gave it. In fact, it made me kind of giddy to see Miles snobbishly rail against merlot and give pinot all his love. (I don't have anything against merlot except that it's kinda boring and one-dimensional, but I'm always looking for exceptions.)

I get that. I get feeling a kinship — however contrived and flimsy — to a grape that is finicky and temperamental, but whose harvest can bring unimaginable delights. That's how life itself feels to me, every day. And that, I think, is why this movie was such a hit. It's a metaphor for existence, but one we can connect to something so common as alcohol or road trips or friendship or, when we're really lucky, all three.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yay! I'm so glad you finally saw it! The Miles / Maya scene is a definite favorite. It's brilliant. But I also enjoyed the punches of humor. "No going to the dark side!" "I am not drinking fucking Merlot!" and when Miles looks at Jack while they're tasting and asks, "Are you chewing GUM?!"

I, too, felt giddy at the great attention given to pinot. It made me feel like part of the club, even if Miles would sigh in derision if I ever met him and attempted to describe wine.

Sideways is one of my favorite movies. I bought it, and it proves an enthralling distraction each and every time I watch it.

1/20/2007 12:54 AM  
Blogger Collin C. said...

Great review. It makes me want to watch the movie again.

Did you catch that Miles' prize bottle, a '67 Cheval Blanc (i think that is what the vintage was), that he enjoyed in Jack In The Box, was a predominately a merlot blend from Bordeaux? I think this scene was Miles' turning point.

Great movie....i wish I had it on DVD.

1/21/2007 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great review, by the way. The only metaphor I really picked up on was in the Miles / Maya "Why I love pinot" scene. Everything else was lost to intoxication and my craving for humor.

2/10/2007 7:45 PM  

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