2005-01-14 / Columnists

MovieScope

By Robert Snyder


“Sideways” is arguably the best film of 2004, yet you have to go upside down and backwards to see it. The brilliant Alexander Payne/Jim Taylor (“About Schmidt”) comedy is a surefire crowd pleaser, but it’s darned difficult to find a theater that is showing it.

Why?

Because the marketing wisdom of Hollywood moguls says that the target audience for a mainstream movie is 14-year-old boys. However, not all movies should play to the “Harry Potter”-“Lord of the Rings” crowd, and “Sideways” is certainly not one of them.

Is it possible an intelligent adult-level movie could reach a wide audience? “Sideways” proves that it can, as it slowly pulls in massive amounts of moviegoers by word of mouth.

Why is “Sideways” so good? It’s funny, without pounding you with punch-lines.

Starring newest schlemiel star Paul Giamatti as Miles Raymond, a frustrated novelist and recent divorcé, who happens to know wine real well. Because he has nothing better to do, he escorts his old college roommate, actor Jack Lopate (Thomas Haden Church), on a wine-tasting tour of Santa Ynez Valley in California, as a prolonged bachelor party (Jack is about to be married).

The problem is that Jack is a compulsive womanizer, while Miles simply wants to wallow in depression. Two girls, Maya (Virginia Madsen) and Stephanie (Sandra Oh), are pulled into the party, with Jack lying like mad to satisfy his lust and Miles finding a common ground in Maya’s wine expertise. Love blooms between Miles and Maya, when he describes the Pinot Noir grape as “thin-skinned and temperamental, needing constant care and attention.”

The beatific relationships explode when Stephanie discovers that Jack is only hours away from his wedding day. However, it doesn’t prevent the about-to-be bridegroom from having another “last fling” with an overweight waitress. A classic comic scene occurs after Jack convinces Miles to retrieve his wallet (which contains his wedding ring) from the bedroom of his last conquest... a bedroom that is being put to vigorous use by the waitress and her husband.

“Sideways” witty, enlightening and wonderfully acted. Go see it wherever you can find it.

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