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Thread: Review of SIDEWAYS

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    Review of SIDEWAYS

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    "Director Alexander Payne takes great pleasure in finding absurdity in the routine and picking apart the foibles of human nature, both of which are the cornerstone of that great comedy that is life. As a director Payne has moved (in the course of four films, mind you) from broad satire to specific character comedy, and Sideways is an almost perfect example of the latter. In it, Payne continues to explore the concept of a modern-day, working class Everyman, which he tackled two years ago with About Schmidt, and he finds him in the form of the hero of Rex Pickett's novel Miles Raymond, a depressed but medicated middle-school English teacher, and actor Paul Giamatti. The film takes the form of a road trip of the best sort, in which the characters talk of worthwhile things (even if they don't realize it at the time) and set off on adventures that open up their souls for our observation. Over the course of a week, these characters grow, and we're given the fulfillment of watching them evolve. This is a film that lets its characters breathe, like a fine bottle of wine that they so enjoy, and simply exist in a world shaped by their experiences."

    Mark's Full Review
    Check out my reviews at Mark Reviews Movies

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    (LOTS OF SPOILERS HERE.)

    I haven't read your entire review, just what you've writen here, and though I agree that "Sideways" continues Alexander Payne's evolution from "broad satire to specific character study", I'm not sure it's a step in the right direction. I wanted to like "Sideways" more than I did (though, to be sure, I did) because I felt it was a step backwards from the naturally satisfying "About Schmidt". Here the conclusion seemed forced, as if to say "Everyone can be a winner, even a morose little shnook like Miles."

    The way it seemed to me, everyone wins, whether fairly or unfairly. Jack gets to the alter really none the worse for wear--no accountability. Stephanie, though devastated, gets to beat the living bejeezus out of Jack (which is totally in character for her). And Miles gets Maya even though he partly is responsible for the cover-up. (Wholly responsible in my wife's eyes--she felt he had no right to happiness with Maya because she knew he was a liar.) Lives that shouldn't have come together in the first place (Jack and Stepahnie) go their own separate ways at the end as if they never met in the first place.

    In my opinion, Jack never grows. If he had, would he have skanked after the waitress after having his nose broken by Stephanie? Jack wanted one thing and he got it every chance he could--and will continue to get it every chance he gets, even after he becomes a spouse.

    Perhaps it can be argued that Miles and Maya are the only characters that matter and their growth is what's important. But I don't think it's a natural growth--it's one borne from lessons that I'm not sure they've learned. (Maya seems to be forgiving enough to forget and look at Jack as the tortured artist rather than the liar she knows he is.)

    I thought "About Schmidt" was about naturally finding your place in the universe. I thought "Sideways" was about middle-aged angst and being unable to find your way out in an honest, hard-earned fashion.

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    Mark, I read your full review. You did a fine job covering the plot of the film and adding your comments about the director and the performances. I would just like to add my observations:

    I would just like to preface my remarks by saying I will be mentioning specific scenes in the film. Please DO NOT READ if you have not seen this movie. It will SPOIL it for you.

    This entire work is not about wine but rather writing, and really good writing versus the adequate. While wine is the focus of the character, Miles, the real meat of the story happens when the characters are sitting on the shore and Miles talks about committing suicide in a hilarious scene that points out the sheer delight and poignancy of this work. Miles goes on and on eloquently describing his feelings, and then, when Jack points out he should write like that, Miles disccovers it was another author's description he had remembered. This is a film about words whose meanings go deep. Just how deep only the viewer can imagine (Jack: "Last night, man... she went deep..." Miles: a puzzled reaction). There is hilarity at its subtly, something rare in film.

    Miles is the main character and really is the only character of the film where we see all sides (something only hinted at in other characters). He is the sympathetic lovable loser who has one night of bliss and is rewarded with a swift kick of reality the following day. The film's ambiguous ending gives us no resolution for Miles. His life of ups and downs will continue to go on. How sad then that toward the end, he felt his only moment of joy was in a local fast food burger joint.

    The journey into wine country is what is sideways about this film. Miles life has nothing to do with Jack's world. They move in different circles. That Jack has Miles as a friend is a tribute more to Jack than Miles. Jack is superficial ("He's an actor!"). His whole thing in life is pleasure, at all costs. Miles is an old haunt in wine country where he used to frequent with his ex-wife. The irony here is his wife gives up drinking and has the one thing Miles earlier states would have been a burden, a child. At that point in the film, Miles realizes that everthing he tried to create in the book he so eagerly wanted published was false, just as his life had been. Miles realizes too late, a story is more than just taking pieces of your life and putting them into a book. A story starts with great characters we, the readers, find appealing. Miles is that character in the film, but the character of Miles doesn't know that until the end. The wine is a ruse, a "Macguffin" to throw us off the real purpose of the film. This side trip off the road of life is filled with so many wonderful moments (Jack's bluntness compared to Miles' finesse in so many scenes). My friend laughed the hardest when the woman screams the line, "He's got Dr. (character's name) wallet!" The script has Oscar dripping all over it.
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    Originally posted by cinemabon
    At that point in the film, Miles realizes that everthing he tried to create in the book he so eagerly wanted published was false, just as his life had been. Miles realizes too late, a story is more than just taking pieces of your life and putting them into a book. A story starts with great characters we, the readers, find appealing. Miles is that character in the film, but the character of Miles doesn't know that until the end.
    That's an interesting idea. Can you give specifics cinemabon, I didnt latch on to this idea? If I remember correctly the book is about Miles' life and a certain amount of pain associated with caring for his dying mother. Where does Miles have revelations about his present day self as a great character?

    It sounds like a very plausible and good reading, I just missed it. Thanks in advance.
    P

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    I believe that I've been taking liberties with the interpretation of the end, where Miles gets feedback from his girlfriend about the voluminous novel (seen in two large sections) part of which is about taking care of his dying (I thought it was his father?) parent. Ergo, his further slide into oblivion by taking the wine which has "peaked," and instead of sharing it with someone who would cherish its ripened flavor, he ends up swizzling it in a cheap hamburger joint by himself. Then we see him in the classroom as a student reads a passage of classical literature only to reflect further on the fact his own novel was resoundly rejected (through juxtaposition). However, this feeling begins with the "thoughts of suicide" scene on the beach, where his character states that even if he committed suicide, it still wouldn't help getting his book published. Further, in the recording Miles listens to of his girlfriends criticism, she expresses puzzlement about the plot and the ending in a way that to me reflected my interpretation. To summarize, I believe the point I was trying to make was that while the character in Miles' book (himself) was a weak character, the Miles character in the film is a "great" sympathetic character. The reason Miles novel failed was that he could not recognize that quality about himself which made him appealing to others. (Now I'm confused!)

    Being a writer, I extrapolated what I was seeing (and feeling)from the film to fit my argument. My empathy was strictly with Miles (as I'm certain it was intended) from the start. The writer side of me probably prejudiced both my opinion and my hand.
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    Originally posted by cinemabon
    To summarize, I believe the point I was trying to make was that while the character in Miles' book (himself) was a weak character, the Miles character in the film is a "great" sympathetic character. The reason Miles novel failed was that he could not recognize that quality about himself which made him appealing to others. (Now I'm confused!)
    So you're saying that Miles' "character flaw", if you will, his insecurity or self-consciousness, was what prevented him from really writing "truthfully" what he thought or felt? So his writing was perhaps more wooden than it would have been if he were more confident in transfering his talent or passion to the paper.

    Or, maybe he simply wasn't talented as a writer to begin with; so that the only time he actually shows some talent (i.e. the beach scene with Jack), is when he's quoting from another writer. Maybe it's that lack of talent, that mediocrity in Miles, that makes him so "sympathetic" to us the viewer. He's human.
    Last edited by JustaFied; 01-09-2005 at 10:16 PM.

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    Originally posted by bix171
    In my opinion, Jack never grows
    I think that's the point, and I also disagree with your conclusion on "About Schmidt". Payne has never been one to wrap things up in a tidy package at the end. In "About Schmidt", the title character was no better off in the end; in fact, his tears at the end seemed to be of frustration. He had no connection with anyone in the world except an African orphan 6,000 miles away, and he realized that his inability to connect was not going to change.

    Likewise, in "Sideways", the characters change only slightly, only incrementally, if at all. That's reality, according to Payne, that's life in the real world. It may not be fair that Jack can run around and then get married scot-free, but so what? Life's not fair. He'll probably continue to cheat on his wife after they get married, and he may even get caught one day. Or he may not.

    I also disagree with your conclusion that "Everyone can be a winner, even a morose little shnook like Miles." Miles doesn't "win", per se, more so he just tries to make the best of his situation. He may not be an accomplished novelist or a Hollywood movie star, but he's a fairly intelligent, sensitive guy who can probably make it work with Maya because she appreciates those qualities about him. So I do think that is a "natural growth" for his character. Does that make him a "winner"? Well, then if so, good for him.

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    I also disagree with your conclusion on "About Schmidt". Payne has never been one to wrap things up in a tidy package at the end. In "About Schmidt", the title character was no better off in the end; in fact, his tears at the end seemed to be of frustration. He had no connection with anyone in the world except an African orphan 6,000 miles away, and he realized that his inability to connect was not going to change.

    I disagree with your disagreement. I contend that the conclusion to "About Schmidt" was indeed tidily wrapped up and that Schmidt, whose primary concern was finding his connection to the universe, finds his place precisely in the correspondance with the African orphan, finally touching someone, even 6,000 miles away. If the main character in a story goes from darkness to light, this is precisely what Schmidt does and I believe the tears are a result of that.

    Miles doesn't "win", per se, more so he just tries to make the best of his situation. He may not be an accomplished novelist or a Hollywood movie star, but he's a fairly intelligent, sensitive guy who can probably make it work with Maya because she appreciates those qualities about him. So I do think that is a "natural growth" for his character. Does that make him a "winner"? Well, then if so, good for him.

    You're right--he's not accomplished and he's just an average guy; he's decent (although he helps Jack in his cover-up, something, as I've said before, my wife says a woman could not condone because it destroys trust) and he's a good fit for Maya. She will help him in his quest to overcome his insecurity, depression and help him find his lot in life, which is more than he had, or had reason to expect, before he met her. I think that allows him to claim victory in life and you're right again--good for him.

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    Originally posted by bix171
    I disagree with your disagreement. I contend that the conclusion to "About Schmidt" was indeed tidily wrapped up and that Schmidt, whose primary concern was finding his connection to the universe, finds his place precisely in the correspondance with the African orphan, finally touching someone, even 6,000 miles away. If the main character in a story goes from darkness to light, this is precisely what Schmidt does and I believe the tears are a result of that.
    Very interesting. I think Payne intentionally left it ambiguous precisely for the reason of encouraging such discussion. I'd like to hear interpretations from others here on this topic.

    I stand by my contention that his were tears of frustration and not of joy. He had spent his entire adult life centered around his wife, his daughter, and his job. Then his wife dies (and he learns she was having an affair), his adult daughter is someone he can't understand or relate to, and his job has gone on just find without him. He's a nobody. He's gone from darkness to darkness. And, in the end, he realizes the cruel irony that the only person whose life he any impact on is the African orphan, someone he will certainly never meet face-to-face. That's a harsh reality.

    I agree with your other comments on "Sideways".

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    Originally posted by JustaFied
    he realizes the cruel irony that the only person whose life he any impact on is the African orphan, someone he will certainly never meet face-to-face.

    Ah, but it is an impact on someone--anyone--and now he belongs to the heavens he gazes upon on top of his Winnebago.

    Alienated by those around him (his adulterous wife, his co-workers who forge on without him) or alienating those around him (his daughter, his future son-in-law, his future mother-in-law), he at last finds someone who he can touch without fear of being relegated to nothingness. It's small conceptually but has a world of meaning to him.

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    Originally posted by bix171
    Alienated by those around him (his adulterous wife, his co-workers who forge on without him) or alienating those around him (his daughter, his future son-in-law, his future mother-in-law), he at last finds someone who he can touch without fear of being relegated to nothingness. It's small conceptually but has a world of meaning to him.
    Yeah, but it's pathetic and it's sad, and I think he realizes this. He simply cannot relate to anyone he meets person-to-person. He's more than just emotionally awkward, he's socially and emotionally inept. He's akin to the Billy Bob Thorton character in "The Man Who Wasn't There". And if he ever by chance does meet the African orphan in person, I think it'll be an awkward interaction as well. I know people like this, people who don't get joy from human interaction, people without real human empathy or understanding. The question is: is it an innate characteristic or a simply a product of the environment? Was Mr. Schmidt born like this, or did he turn out this way because Omaha is such a dull and uninspiring place?

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    Originally posted by JustaFied
    ......in "Sideways", the characters change only slightly, only incrementally, if at all. That's reality, according to Payne, that's life in the real world. It may not be fair that Jack can run around and then get married scot-free, but so what? Life's not fair. He'll probably continue to cheat on his wife after they get married, and he may even get caught one day. Or he may not.
    I agree with you here and on some of the other points you've made while responding to bix171's comments, but, why are we celebrating this film like it's a Citizen Kane or a Godfather? Okay, so there's a slight narrative arc constituting character development, a tight screenplay, some good performances but how about repetitiveness and juvenile humor. Every 10 minutes we have a showdown between Miles and Jack in the hotel room and they both dwell on the same repeatedly which frankly halters any further growth that they might've experienced. Car missing the tree while being destroyed further; explicit description of the sexual acts between Jack and the overweight waitress and the events afterwards; Miles dumping a bucket of wine on himself; the incident on the golf course and many others belong in our average teen comedies that we all love to hate. HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm also comes to mind more than once. The nihilistic attitude is shared by both Miles and Larry David, along with some physical traits. In About Schmidt I didn't like the comedic use of the name "Ndugu." Here we have a dumb Armenian woman who's getting screwed along with her parents, not to mention the Asian woman with a White mother and a Black Kid. Payne doesn't seem to know much about any of them.

    I realize that I've focused on the negatives but for the life of me I can't understand all the top ten lists and the victories at various film societies.

    Quite possibly our most humble and mild-mannered critic, A.O Scott of the NY Times recently wrote an article on Sideways. He wrote that "....the reaction to "Sideways" is worth noting, less because it isn't quite as good as everyone seems to be saying it is than because the near-unanimous praise of it reveals something about the psychology of critics, as distinct from our taste. Miles, the movie's hero, has been variously described as a drunk, a wine snob, a sad sack and a loser, but it has seldom been mentioned that he is also, by temperament if not by profession, a critic," and he went to say, "In "Sideways," a good many critics see themselves, and it is only natural that we should love what we see. Not that critics are the only ones, by any means, but the affection that we have lavished on this film has the effect of emphasizing the narrowness of its vision, and perhaps our own. It both satirizes and affirms a cherished male fantasy: that however antisocial, self-absorbed and downright unattractive a man may be, he can always be rescued by the love of a good woman.

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    A.O. Scott's article harkens back to a similar response last year to Lost in Translation, 2003's "most overrated film". Something about how middle-aged male critics loved seeing Bill Murray, a man about their age, flirting around with Scarlett Johannson, a lovely lass young enough to be his daughter. I liked the movie for reasons beyond this, but that was the argument at least.

    Scott also goes on to point out that Before Sunset and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, "both variations on the theme of a moody, cerebral fellow graced by the kind of romantic love he probably doesn't believe in and can hardle be said to deserve", are, unsurprisingly, also favorites with such critics.

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    Right, similar issues were raised last year but I don't recall that Lost In Translation ever became the phenomenon Sideways has. Scott's article is pretty mild actually; a few other critics aren't so generous but I also don't agree with the stance that Sideways is an abomination. However, as I stated earlier, its success is incredible to me. I believe that there was more to Lost than what met the eye, while the opposite is true for Sideways.

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    I believe the fascination with this film is one of characters. There are an abundance of bright wonderful characters that help to carry the plot. Someone mentioned the two continue to end up in the hotel room rehashing the days events, but I didn't feel that slowed the film at all (as if the hotel room were a respite in the pacing). I liked the informality with the bartender who always knew to leave the bottle and not just a glass. He was in sharp contrast to the bartender who only left a sip of wine at the end, with the hilarious results that followed. The laughs don't seem as forced as Lost in Translation, where Murray pushed the laughs through his discomfort. Sometimes, the New York crowd just doesn't get it. They want their "art" films a certain way. This film has mass appeal not just from its main character as the average joe (though he carries most of the film), there are other examples, too. Like the oriental girl who seems as shallow in her quick choice of boyfriends as her parenting skills; the waitress who appears to be so sweet and innocent, when we later see her down and dirty with her biker husband; and then there is the comic relief of the side kick, Hayden Church, who has the best lines in the film and is a hoot! How often do we get to say these wonderful things about movies, instead of witnessing hordes of armies attacking CGI cities or silly models turned actresses spout drivel in their designer clothing?

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