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flick pick | Sideways 2004
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Rex Pickett [novel], Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: comedy, drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:  darkly comic, lovey
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: ½/5 

Plot synopsis Miles is a grumpy, overweight novelist-cum-middle-school English teacher desperately trying to find a publisher for his work -- and thus far failing. His personal life's not so hot either; though divorced, he's still kind of hung up on his ex-wife. Just about the only thing that brings genuine joy to his sad existence is his love of fine wine. So as his old buddy Jack gets ready to tie the knot, Miles decides that the coolest gift he could give as best man is to treat Jack to a weeklong trip through California wine country. Jack is Miles' polar opposite; he's a D-list actor who still gets recognized for a soap opera role he did way back when, though despite the downward trajectory of his career, he remains as cocksure caddish as ever, all big blond swagger and toothy grin. Jack's not all that into the wine thing; his eyes tend to glaze over whenever Miles waxes rhapsodic about varietals and vintages. But like Miles, he's looking forward to their trip: he sees it as a last chance to score with as many ladies as possible, before marriage puts a damper on his womanizing ways. Generous guy that he is, though, Jack's not making this trip all about him; his groom's gift to Miles is a promise to get his party-pooper, stick-in-the-mud buddy laid. Things look promising for both pals when they meet two local lovelys: sexy single mom Stephanie, who seems like the perfect fling for Jack, and sensitive Maya, who just may be the one to bring Miles out of his shell.

Review Some people have a hard time liking stories about people who aren't "good" folks. If this is you, Sideways is likely to vex you mightily. Protagonist Miles, to be honest, isn't all that nice a guy. He drinks too much, and sometimes says nasty things, and can be kind of pretentious; he stops by for a visit with his mom mostly to steal some cash from her. But the amazing thing about Sideways is that if you can get past all that, it's hard not to sympathize with Miles. Partly this is because so much of Miles' miserableness is directed at Miles himself. But mostly it's because Miles is played by Paul Giamatti, who's such a refreshingly schlubby, ordinary looking guy in the sea of perfect Hollywood bodies that it always makes me happy to see him onscreen. Even if he doesn't remind you of yourself (and that's probably a good thing), Miles seems like someone you could know in real life. He's likeably unlikeable, eminently so, because he's so human. Giamatti's face does an amazing job of revealing what's going on in Miles' head; when Miles acts like a jerk, it's painfully obvious that there's no one who feels worse about it than Miles himself. He wants to be a better guy than he is -- and hey, which one of us can't identify with that? It's his very flaws that make you root for him as he tentatively opens up to the lovely Maya; in her company, you get glimpses of the Miles he could be -- a happier, more confident Miles, a bigger, less petty person. Fortunately, director Alexander Payne's too good a director to let this turn into a mushy tale of redemption; instead, what we get is a movie that's the perfect balance of funny and sad, wicked and wonderful. It's a bittersweet treat that goes down nice and easy, but then leaves you with an unexpected emotional punch. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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