Monday, October 08, 2007

Monday Movie Review: Sideways

Sideways (2004) 5/10
Miles (Paul Giamatti) takes his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip to wine country the week before Jack's wedding. There they meet and become involved with two beautiful wine connoisseurs (Sandra Oh and Virginia Madson).

Gods, did I hate this movie.

Okay, that's kind of strong. There's certainly a lot to commend. Giamatti's performance is nuanced and rather brilliant. Madsen and Oh are radiant and sharp. There were some decent laughs, and the movie is intelligently written. For all of that, it pretty much made my skin crawl.

First, can we talk about Thomas Haden Church? He looks like the Claymation version of a handsome man. His face is soft and sort of semi-formed. I was totally on board when he was cast as the Sandman, a character who turns into sand, because he kind of looks like that all the time. It's very distracting to watch his squishy face, which is consistent with his squishy character. It's a child's face, and Jack behaves like a child.

The problem with Sideways is that Miles and Jack are detestable men with barely any character arc. I'm all about dislikable characters, but give me something. Within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, Miles has lied to his friend Jack, dawdled when he was already late, and stolen from his mother. Really, by this point I absolutely despised Miles, and didn't give a shit what his fucking character journey was. But I stuck with the movie in the hopes that things would shape up.

Silly me.

Giamatti has one absolutely stellar monologue, in which he talks about the wonders of the Pinot grape. How it's thin-skinned, temperamental, not a survivor, but has the most brilliant and thrilling flavors if it's grown correctly. It's very clear that he's describing himself, but wonderfully, neither he nor Maya (Madsen) spell out the simile; the viewer can know it without having it hammered home. The thing is, though, that Miles is thin-skinned and temperamental, but I never really bought that he was thrilling and brilliant.

A negative protagonist works when you sense there's something good within that is unexpressed. You root for the character in the hopes that the good will come out, or that the character will survive the adventure to perhaps find that goodness at a later date. But neither Miles nor Jack evince any decent qualities at all. Miles is smug and disdainful in every conversation, he feels sorry for himself, he whines, he pontificates, and he is seething with anger. Jack is a philanderer and a big ol' baby. Despite everything these men go through, they just persist in being their small-minded, nasty selves.

You know, when you read that, you can think it's intelligent, or realistic, or whatever. Mostly, whiny depressive snots don't much change. But everything in the script and presentation sets you up to expect the heartwarming moment. There is a heartwarming moment at the very end, but it's tepid, and entirely too small in proportion to what has gone before.

Hollywood, including "indie" Hollywood, has too many goddamn movies about self-pitying middle-aged white men with delusions of intellectualism and fear of commitment. Yeah, I get it, they write what they know. But all that does is make me feel irritated that they don't know anything else. If I met Miles or Jack at a party I'd chat with them for ten minutes and then walk away, annoyed. Instead, I was stuck with them for two hours.

(What you do is you kind of swirl the cross-post in the glass to get a look at its color...)