The Citizen Kane of wine-tasting movies, Sideways works on a single level, and it works it well: its smart, full-figured script. I’ve only seen one other Alexander Payne film, which I’ll get to eventually as it was just added to the list, but I was a big fan; his films seem to fully and completely encompass and integrate their subject matter into the film itself, in both structure and content. It’s to that end that this mild comedy comes off much like a fine wine, composed and just a little bit fruity in sensibility.
The highlight of the film is the script, without question. It’s smart, it’s sensible, and it never overreaches; it stays within its parameters very well. An Academy Award win well deserved. As for the rest of the film, there’s really very little to say; it’s another of those modestly shot films that never impresses, but always remains stalwart and solidly made all around. Paul Giamatti is excellent as he almost always is, but it’s Thomas Haden Church who breaks out with his supporting performance; he’s a bit of a lovable lunkhead, and he hits all the right notes. Of course, some of the wine stuff went over my head, but the film did a great job at making it mostly accessible.
Having now seen two of Alexander Payne’s films, I can say that I’ve become a fan. His films aren’t knock-your-socks-off amazing, but they’re just about perfectly made, and always fully entertaining, which is all that I can ask for. If you’re a fan of great films, solid in all respects, you’ll be a fan of Payne, and Sideways, and should definitely give it a try. Some may accuse it of being a bit snobbish, just because it’s about wine tasting, but these people missed the point of the film; it’s a wonderfully human dramedy about the people you meet and choose to share your lives with.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10