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« Fun City | Main | Guest Posting -- Donald Pittenger, Part One »

February 27, 2005

Moviegoing: "Sideways"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

You can count me among the fans of Alexander Payne's "Sideways," which I caught up with the other day and found very funny and very touching. I thought Payne mixed tones, balanced psychology and action, and used grace notes and indirection much more satisfyingly than he did in "About Schmidt," his previous movie. (What did that poor Schmidt do to deserve all the pain and humiliation that were heaped on him?) I enjoyed his witty ingredients list -- the washed-out, reddish visuals that suggested the overused print of a '70s road movie; the droll, carefree-but-wan "Pink Panther"-style score; the foregrounding of bodily and temperamental types (for all his emotionality, Payne's primarily a satirist); and the cross between sensitivity and physical rowdiness.

The film's mood of satire, romance, and melancholy remained movingly open, and stayed with me for a few hours after the film was over. It's been a long time since a new American film's mood stayed with me. It's been a long time since a new American film (at least one that I've seen) had much of a mood to speak of in the first place.

Look at the way the film has got me chatting -- like the film-pedant equivalent of the film's wine-pedant main character. I'm raving about the balance of this, the freshness of that, the bouquet of such and such ... OK, that's another thing I liked about the film: I enjoyed the way Payne had me experiencing his movie as a kind of gustatory creation.

My favorite moment in the film [nothing but SPOILERs to come] occurred at Sandra Oh's house. Paul Giammatti and Virginia Madsen are comparing notes about one of Sandra Oh's rare wines. Giammatti, ferociously aggressive about his sophisticated palate and his wine knowledge (and displacing too much personal frustration onto his wine pride), starts to wake up to the fact that the sweet-natured Madsen has a good palate. A very good palate. And that she's articulate. Very articulate.

There's a moment when you're apprehensive; Madsen's happy, direct, rich sense of pleasure might elicit something nasty -- some competitiveness -- from Giammatti. He might feel the need to take her down. But he's able to pause, let go of his pride, and open up to Madsen instead.

He even starts to play with the notion that Madsen's palate may be better than his -- and he finds himself enjoying that possibility. He's surprised by Madsen, he's surprised by the moment, he's surprised by himself, and he's surprised to be experiencing pleasant surprise. A light goes on in him. He might not be the totally lonely and unappreciated person he imagines himself to be. And life might not be the totally sealed-up, bitter, and finito thing that he has convinced himself it is.

One small movie-buffish reflection? I was grateful to be reminded by the film of how powerful movie closeups can be. Sandra Oh isn't in the movie as much as I hoped she'd be. But she and Payne sketch a convincing portrait of a confident yet vulnerable, frisky yet intelligent woman with just a few well-chosen actions and closeups.

The film's most beautiful closeup is of Madsen. She and Giammatti are on Oh's porch, getting used to each other's company. Payne gives Madsen a short monologue about what wine has meant to her, and he discreetly moves the camera in as she speaks with feeling and reverence. Everything is quiet. It's evening in wine country. Your senses are awakened; the fragrances in the air are gentle, the night's sounds are distant, the evening's food, wine and conviviality are having their effect. And a luscious, generous woman is -- with warmth, fervor, and grace -- opening herself up. I don't know how the audiences you saw the movie with reacted to this brief passage, but some of the people around me were sniffling. Wait a minute, I was sniffling.

I think we weren't moved because the scene was sad, except in its awareness that life itself is finally sad. (Payne is of Greek descent, and he seems to me to have a Mediterranean's deep and inborn acceptance of life's tragic side.) I think that people were moved instead by the moment's combo of beauty and gentle appreciation. Without utilizing any advanced-technology whoopdedo, Payne and Madsen were working magic. Something transfiguring was happening; radiance was pouring through the screen. (The Wife whispered to me after the scene was over, "That's my kind of special effect.") When Giammatti bolts -- he can't handle what's being unwrapped and offered to him -- we know for damn sure how deep his sad-sackness and depression go. We're left alone for a second on the porch with Madsen, feeling the moment fade away.

Movie histories tend to make much of careers, spectacle, economics, business, and technology. Important topics, of course. But the fact is also that closeups have always been found to be one of film's most amazing gifts. Movie closeups were unprecedented cultural phenomena. Faces, projected huge, reacting to dramatic situations -- audiences were pulled into a kind of intimacy with strangers that no one had ever experienced before.

Filmmakers quickly set to work trying to figure out how best -- or at least most effectively -- to put this power to use. (Jean Renoir once said something like, "I go to all the trouble of making films -- finding financing, writing screenplays, contending with crews -- all so that I can make closeups of actresses I love.") Making a closeup isn't a simple matter of moving the camera in and pressing the "start" button, after all. It's also creating the dramatic, audiovisual, and emotional contexts that enable the closeup to work its magic.

We may remember a virtuoso like Welles for his techniques -- for his tracking shots and deep focus. But movie history has been equally a matter of directors and actresses collaborating on closeups: Griffith and Gish, Sjostrom and Gish, Bergman and Bibi Anderson, Godard and Karina. (For my money, no director has created as many great closeups as Robert Altman.) One of the reasons I love the films of Catherine Breillat is that, whatever her film's flaws, every one of them offers three or four images that have the mystery and power of firstclass religious paintings. IMHO, of course.

So I've been in filmgoer's mourning during the last ten years, a period during which the film business has relinquished its attachment to the art of the closeup. (As far as I'm concerned, this has been the equivalent of the film business relinquishing its attachment to its own history.) At the same time as the business has turned away from the erotic dimension of film, it has abandoned its devotion to the magic of closeups -- sacrificing both of these concerns for the sake of ever-sleeker concepts, ever-louder Dolby, ever-snazzier packaging and marketing, and ever-more-overwhelming special effects.

Filmmaking (much of it, exceptions allowed for, etc) has taken a turn away from some of the elements that once formed part of its core strength. Bad choice, as far as I'm concerned, but there you have it. Film has moved on. Watching "Sideways," though, I was able to feel for a couple of hours like I hadn't been thrown off the movie-history caravan.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at February 27, 2005




Comments

Michael, that's a lovely appreciation of a lovely film. I'd only add that I found it--dare I say--Rohmeresque, though in a very American way. I'd also add that its combination of the comic and the pathetic, which is such a feature of real life, is seldom so deftly captured by filmmakers.

Posted by: Francis Morrone on February 28, 2005 1:34 AM



I agree with Mr. Morrone; a review written with care and appreciation. I was taken in by the review and started having second thoughts about "Sideways". Maybe I missed the boat on this> Yet, the scenes you mentioned, especially any scene involving Madsen, were all burned into my skull; they were gorgeous little bits.
As regards the exchange on Oh's front porch between Madsen & Giametti, my take was a bit different. As Giametti finished his part, a self-satisfied little grin appeared on his face. Once Madsen launched into her eloquent end of the exchange, the grin disappeared and the fear of being found to be a dilletante spread over Giametti's face. He seemed to puase in a response not because of kindness so much as a realization that she was more eloquent about his passion than he was.
I was prepared to like even love the movie, but when Giammetti's character pathetically rummaged through his mother's dresser and purloined some of her hidden money, I confess that I was hoping for harm to visit him... in a big way. Drinking the spit dregs of wine at one of the wineries wasn't enough; I had visions of death by being rolled over by full Pinot Noir barrels. The women were strong, the men were weak, and grace & grape were both crushed.
Any clues as to Payne's developmental years? Both "Schmidt" & "Sideways" have a dim view of the male side of humanity.

Posted by: DarkoV on February 28, 2005 8:51 AM



I thought it was good, but not wonderful. After being exposed to the critical build-up for weeks on end, I was a little let down when I actually got around to seeing it. I was expecting to be floored like I was by last year's "best movie of the year" Lost in Translation, and instead I got something akin to one of Woody Allen's better movies. I was entertained though, and it gave me something to mull over -- far more than can be expected from most of today's movies. It was a satisfying experience.

But what I realize is that this is the type of solid, quality fare that should be coming out on a regular basis, but doesn't. The massive critical acclaim that greeted the movie is more an indicator of the critics' gratitude at finally getting their money's worth at the movies (yes, I know they don't pay) than of anything else. Why can't there be more of these movies? Modest adult films that don't try to dazzle you, but simply try to provide a good moviegoing experience, worth the price of admission.

The answer's obvious -- few movies with those ambitions end up making money -- but if Sideways can do it, can't others? What exactly is so unique about this movie?

Posted by: Alex on February 28, 2005 9:57 AM



Francis -- Thanks, though I think that your descriptions of the movie are much more to the point than mine are, as well as much less long winded.

DarkoV -- Your reading of the scene on the porch captures an important element of it I missed. I wonder if I was falling in love with Madsen a bit during her monologue, assumed that the Giammatti character was too, and so was really surprised when he bolted. You seem to have been much better tuned-into the reality of how he was responding. I ran across interesting interviews with some of the "Sideways" team, but I'm out of town and on a lousy connection that gets in the way of research. I'll post some "Sideways" links when I'm back on a cable modem.

Alex -- You're raising good points, including the dangers (for critics, anyway) of overselling small pleasures. I semi-feel for movie critics in this case. Day in and day out (not that it's a hard job or anything), they're enduring soulless or wimpy movies. When something with a little human substance comes along, they must feel like running out on the street and yelling hosanna. And some of them do, god knows. And even though the better ones guard against the temptation, it can still be baffling for us civilians -- just how great is the movie supposed to be? And there's another good and more general question too: how to discuss small pleasures in a way that does them justice? Many of my fave works of art aren't The Greats. (The Greats don't need any defending, and often there isn't much new that can be said about them, unless you're a really, really resourceful art-chatter.) They're moments, or small artists, or an unassuming novel. I won't argue that they're great, but I can assert that in my experience (which of course is really all I have) I've gotten a lot out of these small works. I've been touched, flavors have lingered with me, images or words have had a nimbus that has shut me up for a few seconds. (That scene on the porch with Madsen's the kind of thing I live for in moviegoing.) Yet they're small: if I tried to overawe someone into giving these works a try, the person would almost certainly be disappointed. So how to handle this quandary? I find myself blogging (instead of taking part in professional debates), and I do what I can to be particular and personal about my responses in the hopes that anyone I'm trading impressions with will pick up that I'm dodging the "is it great? is it the best?" conversation and am instead talking about things I've found moving. Much more interesting (to me anyway) to compare personal responses than to argue over whether something's good or not. But there have to be other ways of encouraging these kinds of conversations, and of swapping pleasures without overselling what you love. What are your ideas about this? Any techniques or tricks you've developed that enable you to negotiate these rapids?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 28, 2005 12:26 PM



At first, I was very excited about the movie. Good cast, interesting settings... but then I learned it was heavily weighted toward the "last affair before marriage" theme, which turned me off. Even as of this morning I was still thinking about skipping it. Now, after your review, I am considering it again... the Giamatti/Madsen relationship intrigues me, in the way you describe it, so maybe the Church/Oh thing won't ruin the good parts. Thanks.

Posted by: Isaac B2 on February 28, 2005 3:51 PM



Dear Michael:

Terrific writing. All I can say when I read your stuff on films, so offhand yet so deep, is: "I am not worthy."

Posted by: Steve Sailer on February 28, 2005 5:17 PM



First time here, and what a pleasure! Thanks.
As for movies, I can see that not only your water and underground systems are in need of repair - contrawise (may I say so and be understood?) USA and even NYC to some degree is quite closed to European and Assian films - where real art exists.

Your blog is rich. Thanks!
Corinna Hasofferett

Posted by: Corinna Hasofferett on February 28, 2005 8:29 PM



After I saw the movie, I was also pretty confused by the super-hype around the movie (I liked it when I saw it, and it really grew on me the more I thought about it). Well maybe not hype but alot of acclaim, and anyone my age who I talked to about it also thought that well it was also just ok... "You have to know about wine to get the movie," quipped one of my friends.

And so I started reading the reviews from the different papers. As I figured it, it was a generational thing, each writer was at a stage where what the characters were going through, just hit them right, and it meant something to them that they had to acclaim.

The understatedness, the relationships expressed were just real and thus lauded.

Posted by: azad on March 1, 2005 12:56 AM



ps. i really liked your post and your wife's comment too.

Posted by: azad on March 1, 2005 12:58 AM



And then there is this perspective, more content driven less cineaste. As a card carrying member of The Wine Industry, I deplored the association with inebriation, a complete distortion of how the beverage is consumed by 99% of the world. Now let me turn the podium over to Sally...

'Sideways' Logic: Please, Spare Us The Slob Story

By Sally Quinn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 2005; Page C01

"Sideways," the low-budget Oscar contender, is a guys' movie that celebrates a certain cultural fantasy: Set off on a drinking-carousing-debauching adventure for a week with your buddy, seduce two great-looking girls and then dump them and go home. What fun!

The reviews were fabulous, and then Charles Krauthammer wrote a whole column about it on the op-ed page, calling it "sublime . . . intelligent . . . clever, funny, moving." He concluded, "Trust me on this one. See it."

I did. I hated it. And it wasn't just me. Most of the women I know feel the same way.

The two leads, played by Thomas Haden Church and Paul Giamatti, are losers. They are unattractive -- at times repulsive -- stupid, and gross. They are also untalented, cowardly liars with no sense of humor. They are self-absorbed, undisciplined, navel-gazing failures. They have no redeeming qualities.

And yet, and yet -- moviegoing audiences and the Academy Awards have embraced them. Contrasted with costly special-effects films, "Sideways" is being celebrated as a movie about "real life."

Real life? I don't think so.

For a look at real life, consider the off-Broadway play "Fat Pig." It's about a fat girl who falls in love with a cute guy, who returns her interest. But even so, and even though she offers to get her stomach stapled for him, he still dumps her because he is ashamed of what his friends will think of him. Let's face it, men don't have fantasies of having a fat slob for a girlfriend.

So why is it audiences will buy the reverse?

There are two great-looking women in "Sideways," played by Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen. They are treated badly by the two jerks, who were freshman roommates and have apparently never gotten past a freshman state of mind. Miles, the middle-aged Giamatti character, even steals money from his mother. On a visit home, he slips upstairs, leaving her with his boorish friend, and takes a wad of cash from her dresser drawer. This guy has no shame.

While the single mother played by Oh, flirtatious and desperate for a dad for her kid, might possibly fall for the former soap star Jack (Church), it is inconceivable that the Madsen character, named Maya, would ever look twice at a creep like Miles.

Okay, they share a love of the grape. But Miles, it becomes clear, is also an alcoholic. Just another reason Maya would not be attracted to him.

At the end of the movie, Miles begins a correspondence with Maya in which he bares his soul and confesses what a loser he is. He confesses everything except that he stole money from his mother. Then, in a burst of courage, he jumps in his car, speeds up the coast to the wine country and in the final scene, we see him pounding on Maya's door.

It was all I could do not to shout, "Don't answer it, Maya! For God's sake, don't answer it!"

But we know she will. She'll open the door and fall into his arms.

I propose another ending: a gooey lemon meringue pie right in the kisser.

Posted by: tom merle on March 1, 2005 1:22 AM



Isaac -- If you see the film, let us know how you react. I'd be very interested to hear your reactions.

Steve -- You're too generous. But lay it on thick, I love it. BTW, I hope everyone who surfs thru this comments thread is aware that Steve is doing (along with a lot of other terrific journalism) a lot of terrific movie reviewing. As far as I'm concerned, he's the most original writer about movies in years. Here's a link to a bunch of Steve's reviews.

Corinna -- Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for commenting too.

Azad -- Like you, I thought a lot of the praise for the film didn't so much overdo it (I thought the movie was terrific too) as do it an injustice by making it out to be something it isn't. It's a quiet small movie that takes its time, after all. It hits you emotionally or maybe it doesn't, but that's a personal thing. I wish people who are enthusiastic about books/movies/music/whatever would be more careful about how they portray what they love. They shout too much -- but after all they're trying to get noticed too. You write about the movie, "The understatedness, the relationships expressed were just real" -- and I think that's right on the money, and probably helps explain why a lot of people loved the movie.

Tom -- Thanks for posting the Quinn piece. I confess I'd lost track of her, and didn't know she was still writing, let alone pushing the same wise-assing feminist stuff she's always pushed. (She doesn't seem to have registered that the movie is a satire -- if a "humane" one -- of the two guys. They're supposed to be ridiculous. And she doesn't seem to have understood that the road-trip framework is being used for its overtones of movies like "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces." The guys look ludicrous and pathetic by comparison.) But it's fun to quarrel with her, so I suppose she did her job. Did you get any kind of kick out of the movie?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 1, 2005 2:34 AM



Fine return to form, Michael. More stuff like this, please.

I'll confess I didn't enjoy Sideways as much as About Schmidt or Election -- frankly, I think Payne went a bit overboard with the warm fuzzies this time, and the film hits its emotional high notes much too soon. Still, Sideways was one of the few films I saw in 2004 that required and rewarded close reading.

You have an excellent point about the film's Mediterranean sensibility (nowhere more evident than in its presentation of food), but I don't think you'll find it in either Schmidt or Election. (It's certainly not in Citizen Ruth.) Payne's earlier films are reticent, WASPish, and Midwestern -- though Schmidt has a sympathetic streak to leaven its satire.

Sideways could signal a new direction for Payne, but in a way I hope not. I want to see more films centered on the Midwest.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on March 1, 2005 4:55 AM



Dovetailing "Sideways" with wine-drinking, here's an interesting little piece, , from 101-280.com, on the film's effect on Merlot. Just goes to show you how little faith some wine drinkers have in their own taste buds and how much opinion (wrong/right) foisted on these folks will determine what ehy enjoy drinking. Remember 10-15 years ago when Merlot was the Pinot Noir of its time?

Posted by: DarkoV on March 1, 2005 10:41 AM



Gotta go with Quinn here. "Sideways" is some kind of male fantasy, in which inadequate unintelligent men can fascinate, decieve and bed beautiful intelligent women.

I hated that the film takes the one pure thing in Miles' miserablelife - his love of wine - and subverts it by making him an alcoholic. Someone who abuses the beloved doesn't really love the beloved. I found this touch of cynical over-the-top in a sickeningly cynical story.

The script was far, far, far from worthy of an Academy Award. Rambling and repetitive, there were at least four scenes in which Miles and jack have the same conversation, "Hey Miles! Get your sh*t together. You're f*cking up my sex life!" The conversation never got any deeper. It never changed. In the last ten minutes of the movie, Miles is right there, having learned nothing, watching jack smash his car into a tree. This demonstrates terrible writing as there was no discernible arc in the main character.

Miles' finding the guts to go back to Maya, and maya's wanting him back were totally unmotivated. They only happen in this dog of a movie, so that it could end. Terrible, terrible writing.

My sense is, men liked this movie because they all fell in love with Virginia Madsen. They all want to believe that a woman like that would fall for them. That fantasy has allowed this film to achieve the acclaim it has gotten this year. Whatever...

Posted by: Barb on March 1, 2005 12:04 PM



Opinion of my friend whom I trust:

"...It looks like a 60ies-70ies French movie without good acting.

The vistas of the Napa valley are also very cheesy and do not make me want to visit. The plot is some what “real life psychology” but with “feel good” Hollywood ending.

It’s a far cry from a real good movie where I am concerned"

I am not planning to see it, sorry.
Instead, I'll go to W.Reade Theater to see "Three stories" by Kira Muratova

Posted by: Tatyana on March 1, 2005 12:40 PM



Speaking of the power of close-ups, don't leave out Hitchcock. He was a virtuoso with them.

Posted by: David on March 1, 2005 2:10 PM



Uh, did Barb just give everything away?

Posted by: Brian on March 1, 2005 5:14 PM



Very nice essay. I think I have the following quote from Renoir in one of my notebooks: "I am willing to put up with the most tedious film if it gives me a close-up of an actress I like." Or something like that.

I remember taking a class with Romulus Linney (playwright, father of Laura) who described (if I remember correctly) an encounter with Lillian Gish, who told him "movies are about faces and music." Sounds good to me.

Posted by: Michael Robertson Moore on March 1, 2005 5:30 PM



While I enjoyed the movie, I must admit that I had a somewhat similar reaction to Sally Quinn's...to wit, exactly what was Maya letting herself in for by hooking up with Miles? I mean, it was a triumphant feel-good, life affirming ending for him, but I ain't so sure it would qualify similarly for her. But then I'm old and cynical, or something.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 1, 2005 5:36 PM



Simply did not enjoy the movie. If I wanted to see over-educated, under-paid, passive, inept sad sacks with ruined dreams I'd go a cocktail party.

Posted by: JL on March 1, 2005 5:57 PM



Somehow there's a mistaken assumption that these two are heroes!? that the movie elevates to people we should admire? The two characters are something we all are, broken dreams and missed paths on the way to them, the relationship between the two men is something that i feel ALL people have: friends of circumstance, who you continue to hang out with for only the reason that you existed in the same place, and because of that you continue to hold on to them, even though they do not get you at all.
Hayden churches character is a complete ass, and Miles' character knows that, but he is also flawed and more than that lonely. Their relationship is superficial, and that superficiality is known but ignored.
The movie is about slow change: there is the scene where Church is pleading with him and crying to get Miles to help him, and Miles looks at him and just knows that "the actor" is just acting, and this is as deep as his personality gets (and at this point he is just fed up with him to the point that he wants to leave his ass too). But he doesn't and by the end of the movie Miles only begins to start to change the direction of his life but that's always the hardest thing in life, no?

Posted by: azad on March 1, 2005 10:32 PM



What an interesting set of responses! (And the Hitchcock and Linney stuff -- many thanks, very true and well-put.)

A few questions for those who didn't enjoy the movie? (If it didn't work for you, it didn't work for you, I wouldn't try to quarrel with that, btw ...Just curious to hear how you respond to a few thoughts.)

* Do you find you can accept Woody Allen's movies, where Woody the schlub wins a gorgeous gal? Or Chaplin's, where the Little Tramp wins the girl? If so, why do you find you can go with those shlub-wins-gal movies but not with this one? (And am I the only person who took the ending of this movie to be a fairly open, indeterminate one? Giammatti raises his hand to the door, but we have no idea how things are going to play out.)

* I could of course be wrong, but I think all the objections people have to the two guys -- childish, shallow, etc -- are part of what the film's about. The film's showing them as self-centered boys digging in their heels against growing up. (Barb -- that's the arc for the Giammatti character: he moves into and finally thru his self-centeredness.) They're being satirized for this. Actually the film's a combo of a character study and satire, with some fuzzy romantic edges around the whole package. (It's like "Annie Hall," but somewhat harsher about the main characters' shorcoming.) So I'm confused -- do you think the film's trying to portray the guys as flat-out attractive? (I mean, I think it is, but only to a small extent: Church is kinda charming and roguish and has had his fame -- I don't have any trouble accepting that he can get laid. And Giammatti is smart and certainly knows his wine. But apart from that the film's pretty clear about the guys' limitations, no? And much clearer than "Annie Hall" was about Woody's...) And you had trouble accepting them as attractive? But what if the film was being as clear-eyed about the two guys as you're being about them?

* Tatyana -- As far as I can tell, the wine-country landscapes are supposed to be sorta beautiful but kinda cheesy too. We're supposed to register the two guys as being off on a pathetic adventure -- this is closer to "Dumb and Dumber" than to "Easy Rider." Well, kind of a combo of "Claire's Knee" and "Dumb and Dumber," anyway...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 2, 2005 1:54 AM



Michael,

What has really puzzled me is the way that a lot of the "backlash" against the movie has centered around the mistaken idea that "Sideways" is a wish fulfillment fantasy, as if we're supposed to cheer these guys on like the heroes in "Revenge of the Nerds".

As for Miles and Maya, I've seen enough examples of schlubby smart-funny guys with gorgeous smart-funny women from my own life (let alone Woody Allen movies) not to believe that she just might be attracted to him, especially because (1) she seems to have been burned before and might be looking for someone not-so threatening and (2) she falls for him before she finds out what a train-wreck he is. Maybe I've had a unique life experience, but I'd find it really hard to beliebe that most people who objected to the Miles-Maya pairing don't know of any "odd couples" from their own life.

cheers,
J.W.

Posted by: J.W. Hastings on March 2, 2005 7:50 AM



Also (and I take this to be part of the point of the movie), Madsen and Giammatti bond: they both love wine, and apparently everything it represents. Which gives them a lot more in common than Woody and Diane Keaton ever seemed to have.

BTW and FWIW: the personal reason I enjoyed the exchanges between Giammatti and Madsen in Oh's house was that they reminded me of meeting The Wife. It was as though, within minutes of meeting, we tumbled right into each other's brains. Each of us knew exactly what the other was talking about, and right off the bat. And we seemed to share the same humorous-but-serious attitude towards our enthusiasms and pleasures -- they're absurd and funny, but they're important too. Which tumbled us even further into each other, to a place beyond the mere brain. The Wife has much else going for her too, but I think it's probably fair to say that this semi-instant tumbling-into-each-others'
-thought-processes has always been a superimportant part of why we're together.

Very startling when something like this comes along. I was about 35 at the time, and had had a fair number of terrific girlfriends. But I'd never experienced anything like it. It was like discovering that you share an ESP gift with someone else, and can communicate just by thinking. So I had no trouble with the idea that Madsen and Giammatti should go for each other, or that, when uncomfortablenesses should arise between them, the two of them should find it really upsetting.

Realistically, of course, many women who are as gorgeous as Madsen have trouble with guys their whole lives. Many men don't dare approach them, and the ones who'll take the chance are often ego-driven assholes. (And, many times, abusive.) The looks of beautiful women often get in the way of being able to make simple human contact.

Hey, the love lives of gorgeous women -- another great topic for a movie.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 2, 2005 11:48 AM



Here's a link, , from Underdog, that has the "Pinot v. Cabernet" conversation that's discussed so much in the blog commentary.

Miles' end of the conversation is quite revelatory. He's the pinot grape that's "thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It�s not a survivor like Cabernet that can grow anywhere and thrive even when neglected. Pinot needs constant care and attention." And on and on he emotes. Geez! This guy needs a mother (and hopefully not one that he'd be stealing from) in the worst way!

Maya, on the other hand, when asked by Miles as to why she likes wine replies with, "the more I drank (wine), the more I liked what it made me think about."
What, Miles asks her, does it make you think about?
Maya replies, "Like what a fraud (her ex-husband) was."

She then proceeds to give her rendition of "What wine does for me", blowing Miles off the stage. Her reply is not needy, not self-centered, and is full of life.

Miles slinks off to the bathroom shortly, puppy-eyed and scared shitless.

To paraphrase a comment added before, there's more sympathy on her part for Miles than empathy. I, for one, was hoping she wouldn't get together with him at the end. No good could come from such a gathering.

Posted by: DarkoV on March 2, 2005 4:18 PM



While I enjoyed the movie, I must admit that I had a somewhat similar reaction to Sally Quinn's...to wit, exactly what was Maya letting herself in for by hooking up with Miles? I mean, it was a triumphant feel-good, life affirming ending for him, but I ain't so sure it would qualify similarly for her. But then I'm old and cynical, or something.

I thought the whole movie was a contrast between Miles and Jack's characters. Miles had the idea for the wine trip, basically as something nice to do for Jack before his wedding. The "last fling" thing doesn't appear until they're on their way, and Miles is pretty surprised that that's all Jack wants to get out of the trip. Jack keeps creating these risky situations, and Miles goes along for the ride because he doesn't want to be a spoilsport. It turns out okay because luckily (a little too appropriately), the damage incurred by the risk fell on Jack's head and not on Miles's, because Jack is used to dealing with ridiculous risks he brings about on himself. Miles certainly wouldn't have gone through with the wedding after that weekend. Notice that Jack is never nervous even once, although he suddenly because devastated after his risky behavior screws up his life.

Not knowing or caring anything about wine, the metaphor that struck me the most was the simple exchange at the end.
"Wait...why wasn't I hurt in the crash?"
"You were wearing your seatbelt."

Also, I never had a sense that Miles was an alcoholic. He gets drunk after hearing that his ex-wife is getting married, but that isn't what people expect him to do when he encounters wine.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on March 2, 2005 5:40 PM



(And am I the only person who took the ending of this movie to be a fairly open, indeterminate one? Giammatti raises his hand to the door, but we have no idea how things are going to play out.)

Well, she did invite him up there.

I liked how unpredictable the plot of the movie was, but I still knew, when he left his class of 18-year-old eighth-graders at the end, that there would be a voice-mail message from Maya. The phone had been the source of all his disappointments.

He definitely had a character arc. For one thing, he gave up on his dream of being successful writing insanely boring and pretentious novels. He becomes a person who can interact reasonably with others. (I found it rather unlikely that he had been married before, though...)

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on March 2, 2005 5:45 PM



God, I hate whiny American feminists who think that gorgeous women are off-limits to all men who don't look and behave like Greek gods. I mean, how superficial is that? In Europe, things are not so rigidly hierarchical with regards to physical appearance, and people are more open to appreciating each other's more subtle qualities.

Posted by: blowhard wannabee on March 3, 2005 12:43 PM



>>>>Tatyana wrote: The vistas of the Napa valley are also very cheesy and do not make me want to visit.

The movie is not set in the Napa Valley. The film is set 400 miles south of Napa Valley.

Miles' and Jack's odyssey takes them through the Santa Barbara Wine Country which is in the San Ynez Valley. Here is a good article on the area and some of the wineries and restaurants that were used i the film.
http://www.suntimes.com/output/travel/tra-news-sideways20.html

BTW, what is a cheesy vista?

Posted by: Pat Hobby on March 3, 2005 3:02 PM



Pat, I'll forward your questions to my friend whose opinion I sited.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 3, 2005 3:09 PM



Sally Quinn? Please. You can't expect people who marry their bosses to understand the mysteries of attraction.

Posted by: Bob Denard on March 3, 2005 3:54 PM



Quickly to the haters, I sympathize but not entirely. Miles and Jack have the redeeming feature of eternal loyalty to each other, which Miles shows when he lets Jack wreck his car. Miles, now alone, has no real incentive to preserve it. Furthermore, these women are not as intelligent as these critics would have us believe. Even if Miss Oh was desperate to find a father for her child, only a fool would see such a person in Jack, much less believe his transparantly false promises.
Other than that, I would agree with much of the haters. I certainly didn't give a damn as to whether or not Miles died in a car crash at any point in the movie. He's too pathetic for us either to hate or love. The only logical conclusion of his life would be for Maya to keep him as some sort of pity pet. That way he could be happy without any of us actually having to be happy for him.
The two female characters are underdrawn. I can't understand what draws Maya to Miles except for the possibility that her previous relationship was to an alpha male who turned out to be a jerk, scaring her into a life of pity-love. In a better movie, we would better see this as a fallout relationship from previous failures, and laugh at how their compatability of impotence leads to a gruesome and enduring relationship, Married with Children style. Oh and Jack both seem to live lives of indiscriminate caprice, and a decent ending would imply their iminent lifelong frantic escapade of nonsense and misery.

Posted by: Uncle Ray on March 7, 2005 12:27 PM



Quickly to the haters, I sympathize but not entirely. Miles and Jack have the redeeming feature of eternal loyalty to each other, which Miles shows when he lets Jack wreck his car. Miles, now alone, has no real incentive to preserve it. Furthermore, these women are not as intelligent as these critics would have us believe. Even if Miss Oh was desperate to find a father for her child, only a fool would see such a person in Jack, much less believe his transparantly false promises.
Other than that, I would agree with much of the haters. I certainly didn't give a damn as to whether or not Miles died in a car crash at any point in the movie. He's too pathetic for us either to hate or love. The only logical conclusion of his life would be for Maya to keep him as some sort of pity pet. That way he could be happy without any of us actually having to be happy for him.
The two female characters are underdrawn. I can't understand what draws Maya to Miles except for the possibility that her previous relationship was to an alpha male who turned out to be a jerk, scaring her into a life of pity-love. In a better movie, we would better see this as a fallout relationship from previous failures, and laugh at how their compatability of impotence leads to a gruesome and enduring relationship, Married with Children style. Oh and Jack both seem to live lives of indiscriminate caprice, and a decent ending would imply their iminent lifelong frantic escapade of nonsense and misery.

Posted by: Uncle Ray on March 7, 2005 12:27 PM






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