Judge Franck Tabouring loves a great movie as much as he loves a great wine.
In search of wine. In search of women. In search of themselves.
I instantly fell in love with Alexander Payne's delicious Sideways when I first tasted it in theaters back in 2004. Even now after repeated viewing, I still consider it to be one of the funniest and most sophisticated dramatic comedies in years. It's a truly wonderful cinematic experience, and now you're finally able to see it in high definition with the arrival of Sideways (Blu-Ray).
Facts of the Case
Based on the book by Rex Pickett, the film introduces us to Miles (Paul Giamatti, American Splendor), a San Diego teacher and failed writer who invites his buddy Jack (Thomas Haden Church, Smart People) on a weeklong wine-tasting road trip across California. You see, Jack is just a couple of days away from tying the knot, and Miles would just like to show him a good time before he kisses life as a bachelor goodbye.
At first, everything seems just fine. The weather is beautiful, the wine tastes great, and for Miles, this trip seems like a great opportunity to get out of his depressed state at home and share his passion for wine with his friend. When Jack expresses his wish to party and starts flirting with pretty much every woman he encounters, things quickly spin out of control. A couple of bottles and some surprises later, the two buddies start to realize they're both en route to an unexpected midlife crisis.
Sideways took home the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor back in 2005, and to be honest, they totally deserve it. I never read Pickett's book, but the screenplay Payne and Taylor generated is a true marvel. What I like most about this film is that it's completely driven by its compelling characters and the actors portraying them. Both the film's wit and its dramatic aspect lie deep within what Miles and Jack do, what they say, and above all, how they react to all the things they encounter on their wild road trip, and watching them slowly come to terms with the fact they're not the youngest anymore turns out to be truly hilarious and painful at the same time. It's hilarious because they can easily get themselves into the weirdest situations, and painful because I found it easy to feel for these characters and their miseries.
If you've seen the film and love it you obviously know why Sideways is so amusing and touching. If you haven't had the chance to see it, I strongly encourage you to do so. I won't comment on Miles' and Jack's shenanigans because I don't want to spoil anything, but what I can say is that the movie does a wonderful job at gently morphing from comedy to drama and back without major interruptions in the plot. One moment you sit there laughing or smiling, and the next you deeply feel for the characters, and that's exactly the effect a dramatic comedy should provoke.
Payne already proved he's a dab hand at sophisticated filmmaking with Election and About Schmidt, and his direction in Sideways is as perfect as ever. Notable in the film is also Rolfe Kent's superbly jazzy soundtrack, which works like a charm and largely contributes to the film working so well as a whole.
Giamatti and Haden Church have quickly become two of my favorite actors, and seeing them harmonizing together so well is a pure pleasure. I cannot help but praise these guys' efforts over and over again, especially because they're both completely in control of their characters. Giamiatti has the perfect look and brings along the perfect attitude to play a messed-up wine connoisseur who fails to overcome so many things in his life, and Haden Church has the ideal face and energy to play this often cocky and loud actor who's about to get married but desires to spend the week leading up to the wedding getting laid as much as he can. Of course, Sideways wouldn't work as well without Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. They both deliver very authentic, heartfelt performances, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Madsen's strong chemistry with Giamatti. All four of these characters have plenty of miseries to deal with, but together, they lift each other's spirits and soon find the courage to get up and do something with their lives before time runs out and the chances have all vanished.
The first thing you should know about the Blu-ray edition of Sideways is that it doesn't offer anything new in the special features department. That said, the content it does offer delivers the goods. Besides seven deleted scenes with insightful side information, the bonus section also includes a short but interesting behind-the-scenes look during which cast and crew discuss the story and their characters. The best extra on the disc is undoubtedly the feature commentary with Giamatti and Haden Church. It's a great pleasure listening to these guys, and they obviously have a whole lot of fun as well. Luckily, not everything they say is silly and they do offer some great additional information about the shooting of the film. I often find it hard to listen to entire commentaries for films that last for more than two hours, but this one is very enjoyable indeed.
Now, the only complaint I have about this edition is its 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation. Although the quality of the image is certainly not that bad, I still found the video transfer to be a little too grainy for my taste. Compared to other Fox Blu-ray releases I've recently reviewed, this is probably the weakest. On the other hand, the disc's 5.1 DTS Master Audio works flawlessly; dialogue, sound effects, and soundtrack flow together quite well.
Sideways is a pleasure to watch. It's a funny, sad, and surprising film supported by fabulous actors who succeed in supplying viewers with a bunch of unique characters who drink great wine, run into plenty of trouble, and eventually find a way out of their mess. This is filmmaking at its best!
Tasty, but not guilty.
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