A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)
Two men reaching middle age with not much
to show but disappointment, embark on a week long road trip through
California's wine country, just as one is about to take a trip
down the altar.
In the early
days of the Province, I wrote occasional reviews
for Info of current films that I thought might be of interest
to my fellow Dominicans. Recently, one of the members of the editorial
board asked me to write again. So, I decided to give it another
shot. One reason is that most of us like to talk about movies,
and even use them as teaching and preaching resources. In addition,
the wide availability of videos and DVD’s at libraries,
stores, rental outlets, and on TV, usually just a few months after
release, makes it easier to catch up with movies, even for those
who no longer venture out to the theaters.
I’ll start off with a movie
I’ve seen twice and can’t stop thinking about.
Sideways is a wonderful comedy/drama that has been
winning all kinds of awards, and has just been nominated for five
Oscars, including best picture. Without a big budget, or big stars,
it’s this year’s “little film” that has
everyone talking. Sideways is the story of two old friends, Miles
(Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Hayden Church), who journey to
the Wine Country of Santa Barbara, California, for a last fling
before Jack’s wedding. Miles, a middle school literature
teacher, is still grieving his recent divorce. He is also a frustrated
writer, attempting to get his latest novel published. Furthermore,
Miles fancies himself a wine connoisseur, with a special affection
for Pinot Noir. He hopes the week away will consist of a lot of
wine tasting and a little golf.
the other hand, Jack has quite different plans. He wants to have
a last fling before he settles down to marriage. (I’d hate
to see his FOCCUS results!!) Jack also wants to help Miles find
a nice woman to help him get over his divorce. Before long, they
meet two women, Maya (Virginia Madsen), a recently divorced waitress,
and Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a single mom who works at a winery.
Jack and Stephanie waste no time become physically involved (naturally,
Jack doesn’t mention his upcoming marriage), while Miles
and Maya take their time. In a great scene, Miles and Maya tell
each other how they became interested in wine. Without realizing
it, they’re no longer talking about wine, but about themselves.
Sideways takes us inside these four
deeply flawed characters. Despite their flaws, the audience is
drawn to them, even the cheating, immature Jack. Miles becomes
the focal character. Unlike Jack, there is hope that he can change
from a man who steals money from his own mother early in the film,
to someone who can learn from his mistakes. Even though Miles
loses Maya, by the end of the film there is hope for reconciliation.
There is much humor in Sideways, flowing naturally from the characters
and story, never seeming forced. Yet I was touched by a sense
of sadness in the film. It’s a sadness that comes from looking
back on one’s life and discovering the missed opportunities
and the relationships that did not work. One of the most touching
moments occurs when Miles sees his ex-wife and her new husband.
Miles realizes that his replacement is a good man, and finds out
that they are expecting a child. The face of actor Paul Giamatti
tells the whole story: they have the relationship he wanted with
his wife, but was not capable of. It’s a quietly devastating
I don’t know if a young person could appreciate Sideways.
I think you need to have felt the disappointments, the sadness,
and acknowledge the sin in what we have done and what we have
failed to do. Yet there is the hope that grace will touch our
lives and we can be redeemed. Like Miles and Maya, it’s
not too late for self-knowledge, growth, and even a second chance.
Sideways is beautifully written and
acted. After many big-budget movies with big stars and special
effects have come and gone, the memory of the very human characters
of Sideways will still be with me.