10 August 2007


Dir: Alexander Payne, 2004

FilmFour recently put on a ‘NEEEWWW HOLLYWOOOOOD!’ season, because the future of da bidneth is apparently represented by the cinematic equivalent of Nemo music. I either missed (Lost in Translation, probably other stuff) or decided against watching (I ♥ Huckabees, Brick) a lot of what I was originally interested in, but I caught a couple of films; this is one of them. And no Napoleon Dynamite, because I can barely bring myself to look at Jon Heder.

I don’t get the deal surrounding this film at all. Reviewed when it came out as a great low key film full of character and characters, it left me wanting more. More what? Not sure really. At two and a half hours on FilmFour, not more of the film, that’s for sure. Not to say it’s a bad film (that’s coming next), but it is neither here nor there, and that is arguably even worse.

I was tempted to get shot of it on the premature tip, but decided to stick with it so I could write it up for the blog; the temptation, though, was always there and really came about because nothing happened in the first half an hour. I mean little happened in the whole thing, but the first thirty minutes or so was pure exposition and nothing else. Yeah, we get it: it’s an odd couple comedrama about an ageing former star lothario who’s about to get hitched, and a cartoony nerd character. Together they are giving the former his last week of freedom in Wine Country!

I think the draw with the film was that middle aged Guardian readers (and whatever their equivalent is in America – New York Times?) watched it and wanted to drink some fine wine. Well, it had quite the opposite effect on me; I specifically didn’t want to get into wine for fear of turning into the loser of the Sideways pair (Mike, played by Paul Giamatti; I remember him from The Truman Show and Donnie Brasco, playing various control room nerds. Maybe you do too!).

Thankfully a plot was found before I turned over the channel, and it proved reasonably engaging, and pretty well written. The deal was that the engaged character (Jack, played by Thomas Haden Church) was desperate to get laid with another woman before getting married, and only slightly less desperate to get not-so recently divorced Mike in the sack with another woman before he died. Not that his death was imminent or anything – this isn’t a terminal illness flick – but that’s the point.

So it turns out that Mike has a thing for a Wine Country waitress (Maya, Virginia Madsen) (see, while I felt nothing for the wine element of the film, I was a big fan of the leafy Californian environs housing the story), who has a reciprocal thing for him. Ergo Jack tries to get them together while intending to get himself with local wine store owner (Stephanie, played by Sandra Oh off Grey’s Anatomy – you have nothing to fear from me writing that one up, unless some major changes occur). And they get together, sweet.

Or is it? See, while Mike and Maya are on a date, he blurts that he and Jack hae to be back home soon for the rehearsal dinner, and all hell breaks loose. Stephanie is well gutted, as she thought she was in a cool relationship, so she batters him with a motorcycle helmet. Meanwhile Mike, still hurting over the recent news that his ex wife has remarried and will be at Jack’s wedding, goes on quite the downward spiral. See, it took what felt like forever, but the film finally got interesting.

In fact, it went a bit further than I thought it would, plot wise, for which I doff my hat, which I’m not currently wearing. It would be pretty amusing to have a computer hat, though, which I wear only for blogging and chatting to folk. Maybe a deerstalker, which I can pair with a bubble-blowing pipe and possibly even a monocle. Anyway, the downward spiral segment of this film was way more compelling than, say, the second half of the insanely over-loved Goodfellas (I always preferred the Salad Days half, myself), as Jack bedded an overweight fan of his before making his nude escape when her shift-working hubby turned up. And then he and Mike having to return to the scene of the crime because Mike had left his wallet – and his wedding rings – in the house.

Yes, the final third of the film was quite the act of salvation, as I was finally given a reason to care about my characters and what happened to them. More importantly than unfortunate plot twists, the characters became fleshed out: I started sympathising with Mike, and actually quite disliking the otherwise charismatic and winning Jack; similarly, Stephanie and Maya were transcended from the status of dual plot devices to the most sympathetic characters in the piece. Stephanie especially, the free spirited single parent who just wanted a bit of stability in her life, really came into her own with the aggravated battery scene.

There were also laughs in the film; intentional, belly laughs at that. The apparently quite infamous ‘if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!’ line was excellent, as was Mike’s dash for (in)glory, steaming out into a field with bottle in hand upon news of his ex’s new life. Further, the drunken phone call to said ex was handled really well; potentially the most awkward phone scene since the Swingers answer-phone message.

But while it developed into a very decent film (‘romp’, if I was a Guardian hack), it was way too slow to get going and therefore too bottom heavy for me to consider a good overall film. Sideways is uneven and overlong, but damn it if didn’t end up charming me beyond the lovely scenery.


  1. I've actually seen this one, for a change. A comrade pressed it very firmly into my hands, on the grounds that I like wine.

    I broadly agree, anyway. I found it moderately amusing but not 'special' in any defineable respect.

    My memory gets hazier by the day - did the bit where your man there stole some money from his mother early on in the film actually go anywhere?

    All this is by way of getting around to say that my internet hat would be a fez, worn at an angle ('a jaunty angle,' were I a hack of any stripe). I actually own a fez. I might put it on right now.

  2. You know something? I don't think that did go anywhere, other than merely being a device to show how desperate he was (ergo how much he needed his book to be picked up). That's if it was Mike, which I think it was. Oh yeah, it can't have been Jack because he was flirting with her, and if she'd been his mum, this would have been an altogether different film. Probably a Todd Solondz film.

    And a tardy thanks for that metal-bands-on-majors link. It was a pretty engaging mix of stuff I knew and stuff I didn't.

    Also: if you'd be so kind, let me know if your local HMV has 'Sexy MF'/'Raspberry Beret'/'Cream'/other stuff in its Prince promotion. I have bought six singles thus far, but those are notable non-stocked 12"s. And we can see if you've viewed tomorrows film~!

  3. I saw this about a fortnight ago actually; it's pretty much the defining of a film that's unspectactular and charming. Proper Sunday night business. Probably.

  4. "You know something? I don't think that did go anywhere, other than merely being a device to show how desperate he was (ergo how much he needed his book to be picked up)."

    I didn't think it actually led to anything, but I generally tend to drift off at several points during films so I could have missed something. It was pretty cack-handed, then.

    "Also: if you'd be so kind, let me know if your local HMV has 'Sexy MF'/'Raspberry Beret'/'Cream'/other stuff in its Prince promotion. I have bought six singles thus far, but those are notable non-stocked 12"s."

    I will be going into Brum tomorrow so I'll take a detour to the HMVs just for you.

    " And we can see if you've viewed tomorrows film~! "

    I don't even have Film Four, as far as I know. I saw 'Sideways' on a borrowed DVD. The 'pressed into my hands' remark was semi-literal.

    Can you actually have such a thing as 'semi-literal'?

  5. Nice one on the detour, and we'll see on the film. It's pretty widely seen, but I don't know if it was pressed into your hand or not.

    Tom might have seen it, anyway.

  6. 1) No, I haven't seen 'Garden State'.

    2) The two smaller HMVs didn't seem to have the Prince promotion on at all. The larger one didn't have any of the abovenamed 12"s.

  7. 1) I envy you.

    2) I appreciate the looking, Russ; a London contact reminded me of the HMV website (apparently there's this thing called 'the internet' that I bizarrely forgot about), so I'll fill various gaps there if need be. They seem not to have the likes of 'Cream', 'Peach' or 'My Name is Prince' anyway, so that's a tad disappointing.


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