Sideways – a fine, self-loathing Pinot Grigio

Phew! That was a long hibernation, and at last blinking in the light I’ve escaped from the cave of work/ fruitless labour. Or if you’d prefer another analogy, I’ve finally succeeded in chipping through the prison wall like Tim Robbins in Shawshank; but back to reality, at least I’ve got a house, and a computer to type on! Life has a funny way of getting in front of things and whisking us away from ourselves, but I’m back now, inside my own head.

Well that’s enough of real life, my next blog is about the wine thriller Sideways, and ties in nicely with my own temporary mental enlightenment. Alexander Payne’s Sideways is a film about appreciation. It’s a film that can teach us much about our own lives and crams it all into a digestible 126mins.

The film begins with one of my favourite opening scenes. Miles (Paul Giamatti) a nobody, a loner and of course, a wine lover, is late. Despite this he takes his time to prepare, he folds his clothes, has a poo, and finally gets on the road swigging a bottle of vino. Time is a considerable force in this film and speaks to everyone who worries about age, which is everyone in the world who realises their own mortality. Miles sets off on a journey with his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church), who is a better looking, slimmer and more successful partner. The trip takes them to the wineries of California, and we soon learn that this is in fact Jack’s stag… and also that Jack doesn’t really drink wine.

So this is a journey for Miles to say goodbye to his last friend and as the film progresses we learn that Miles and Jack’s relationship is as solid as rock. The series of events that puts them into trouble climaxes when Miles has to literally retrieve Jack’s wallet from the house of a huge, angry hick, while the hick has sex with his cheating wife in the same room! And that’s another life lesson which emerges through Sideways – always appreciate your friends.

A recent study in the Guardian “Top 5 Regrets of Dying” reported that the number four regret for those dying of a terminal disease is “I wish I’d kept in touch with my friends”. Here’s the article, I suggest you take a few moments to read it, and then pass it on: Also on that list was “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings”. This repression is also a strong theme in Sideways as Miles has to force his feelings down until the moment is literally gone.

The second most compelling scene in Sideways is that classic point when another character tells the protagonist who he is or what he wants. The wine itself is seen as a reflection of all sorts of people, places and situations and when Maya (the wine-loving-love-interest) finally finds herself alone with Miles, they both tell their own stories and reveal their own characters along with their pitfuls. This of course is in contrast to Jack who is busy committing the ultimate lie with Stephanie in another room.

Now I’ve mentioned the second best scene, it’s only fair that the best gets a few words before I stumble towards a conclusion. The best scene is the ultimate low for Miles, he meets his beautiful ex-wife played by Jessica Hecht, and sees the life he could have had. The irony of it all is that Miles threw it all away – he cheated. The event throws Miles straight back down and leaves him sipping his favourite bottle of wine in a fast food take away, alone and broken. The scene itself is tragic beyond description, you’ll have to watch it. The nub of the scene is Miles’s heart breaking right in front of your eyes, played brilliantly by the awe inspiring Paul Giamatti. Nuff said.

My first post focused on There Will Be Blood and I compared it to a “fine wine”. Sideways has similar depth, similar qualities but is ultimately a film which focuses on the positives in humanity rather than the negatives. Sideways can be watched with a bottle of wine and your other half without fear of bordom or violence. This in many ways is a better film than There Will Be Blood and has the unique honour of inspiring my interest in wine!

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