Alex Worsnip 07/03/2005

Rating: 3/5

Sideways' is a vaguely quirky, feel-good movie centring around two polarly opposite friends who go on a journey through Californian wine country. The very concept already marks off the film as distinctively tame, bourgeois and middle aged, and all these it is, but it is generally amusing and inoffensive enough. Like a good wine, the film is classy and enjoyable, and it has a distinct 70s vintage to its generally wholesome tale. The jokes range from genuinely quite amusing, mainly generating from Paul Giametti's superb performance as Miles, a failed novelist and wine affecianado, brilliantly brought to life in his pretentious but sweet underdog character, to irritatingly set-up or revolving around the various in-jokes of wine. Miles' companion Jack, played by Thomas Haden Church, is an irritating never-grown-up jock who aims to come across as loveable rogue but simply comes across as a prat, and anyone with any soul will prefer Miles; Jack's endless alpha male persona, which somehow magically spellbinds various females along the way, gets some sprucing up from the customary emotional scene, but it is portrayed unimaginatively.

Predictably, Miles meets fellow wine buff Maya (Virginia Madsen), who, after the compulsory awkward false starts required by his bumbling persona, he gets together with. She is another character with little serious depth, spouting semi-romantic cliches in the annoyingly kitsch framework of wine, something which the movie can never resist exploiting for a romcom moment. Having said this, the theme of wine works at times and, though the film at times seems like one long advert for drink driving (the very concept of a film about a wine-tasting road trip is enough to make MADD madder than ever), it certainly won't do the Pinot industry any harm. The middle-brow feel is sustained by a jazz-lite soundtrack, never a vitalising influence on a film. The somewhat predictable and shallow nature of the plot and the emotional range of the film does dampen it somewhat. Ultimately, we only care about Miles, testament both to the fact that he is the only fully formed character textually, and also that Giametti's performance is acres ahead of any of the other actors here. It would be unfair to dismiss Sideways, as it is enjoyable and pleasent for the most part. But it never gets quite beyond this: a disappointment given director Alexander Payne's fine pedigree. Quaffable, but ultimately lacking the rich, deep texture of the finest vintage.