Director: Alexander Payne
Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
Runtime: 127 Minutes
Original UK Release: 2004
Alexander Payne’s films take disgruntled and disenchanted individuals at odds with the world and pitches their quarrel against the people around them as a platform for their own gradual maturation and change in their outlook. Sideways is no different.
Amongst these belligerent main figures lies a tragedy that Payne and Taylor tap into through their writing. They bring immense empathy to the fractured Miles, whose position as a pseudo-intellectual, aspiring author is undermined by his inability to communicate with people he considers below his calibre - his romantic life a crumbling hive of half encounters and silent despair.
But it’s how Payne presents his discomfort and more sombre moments that enrich him, as well as Giamatti’s significantly understated performance that stands as the best of his career. He is in great contrast to Church’s Jack as they operate in the odd couple spectrum on their week together. Jack’s an ignorant egotist incapable of self-restraint, and they venture into self-destruction together but in different, yet similar ways. Lying, boasting and drinking their way through events in need of escape. Wine being the catalyst the divides them (the cynical and the easily led) while also sewing metaphor from the static poetry of lives. The wonderful Virginia Madsen breathes life into Miles’ infatuation while Sandra Oh does well with her more limited screen time.
All the while Papamichael’s cinematography lights up the frame with authentically ageless beauty, filmed in a way that echoes the 70’s qualities of Lohmann and Kovács drawing focus to the figures in the landscape. Sideways is a film that in other hands might not function as well, but in Payne’s this is a plush and classical trip that offers up just as much about the complex design of life, middle age and love as it does about the wine.