Sunday, December 05, 2004

Sideways

Sideways is that kind of film that effectively captures the somber state of bottled melancholy. Not since Lost In Translation has there been a movie that draws a very fine line between laughters and tears. But, if I were to be asked to pick which one is better, I would pick Sideways anytime.

Sideways is supposed to be a comedy (and indeed it is!) but the emotions it conjure from its audience transcends the usual laugh-and-let-go comedy. The laughter it elicits somehow manages to linger in your mind and you find yourself eventually consumed with pity and sadness for the characters that you end up shedding tears (in my case, rather copiously) when you realize that you could just have been one of them.

Paul Giamatti is Miles. Miles is a would-be writer who can't get his novel published. He's a middle-aged something guy whose divorce two years before have left him heartbroken and incurably depressed. He goes on a wine-tasting trip in the wine valleys of Northern California with his best bud Jack (Thomas Haden Church, who won the National Board of Review award for best supporting actor) who is set to marry the week after.

This is a road trip like no other. Think of Rain Man, but on a lighter, more personal level. The trip is perfectly laid out with agendas ranging from golf games to wine-tasting and just plain getting drunk for a week. They meet Maya and Stephanie during one of their wine-tasting stops and Jack develops another agenda: To get himself laid before he takes the so-called plunge. Miles vehemently resists this development and wants to stick to the original plan. It is at this point that the characters start to unravel.

Miles is still stuck over his ex-wife Victoria who unknown to him has gotten married already. When he learns this from Jack, he goes on a classic childish fit of temper that seems very funny on the surface but when examined closer comes out very real and affecting. The crushing realization of what Miles feared becoming real is very distressing to watch. And credit to Paul Giamatti's excellent acting when he doesn't overact this scene when the temptations to do so is high given the hysterical scenario.

He then grudgingly accepts Jack's plan and they go on a bachelor trysts with the two ladies (who are taken for a ride they shortly will discover and regret.)

There is a scene on the porch between Miles and Maya (Virginia Madsen) that is agonizingly sweet and tentative. You can feel their lust for each other but you can sense that something is holding them back. This quiet dialogue would be punctuated later on by Miles' near-awakening as Maya describes what it is in wines that she likes most. Miles sees a reflection of him in Maya that he has not seen of himself in a long time due to the years of denial and forced depression that have invariably locked him in a dire state where the only way out is to take the cork out of that bottled emotions he has been keeping himself in and just like opening a vintage wine, enjoy the matured flavor that life offers and celebrate each moment like it is the moment.

In the coming weeks I am predicting that Sideways will get an ensemble acting nomination from the Screen Actors Guild. The Globes will award Paul Giamatti his best actor in a comedy, Thomas Haden Church will get nominated and the film will receive multiple Oscar nominations.

Superbly directed by Alexander Payne, this is one film that transcends its genre and evokes real emotions from its audience.


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