Snobby ‘Sideways’ is a good vintage on DVD

Robert Taylor

Sideways is a snobby movie made by snobs, written about snobs and aimed at snobs. Since most, if not all, of America’s critics are snobs they therefore praised the movie as a masterpiece and called it the best film of last year, awarding it with all those Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. It’s a good film, no doubt about that, but there is more formula at play here than most would like to admit.

A week before one of them gets married, two friends (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church) travel to wine country for a patronage where they hope to get drunk and get women. And once they get there, they do get drunk and get women (Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh), but their experience touches their lives in ways they did not expect.

Now return to the last paragraph, substitute the word “stoners” for “friends” and “ghetto” for “wine country” and you’ll have the plot for a ton of stoner comedies over the past 20 years, stoner comedies that were critically attacked because of their unoriginality and formula plotlines. Yes, Sideways is better than most of those comedies, but since it has the whole snob factor going for it critics decided to call it original and formula breaking.

There is a certain scene where Giamatti must crawl into a house to retrieve his friend’s wallet. The only problem is it isn’t his house, and the wallet is in a room where two people are having sex. It’s funny enough, but in any other film it would be tepid and uninspired, but here critics called it one of the funniest moments ever recorded on film. It’s funny, but it ain’t all that.

Another reason critics embraced the film so much was because it talks down to the audience in a way no other film has before. Instead of spelling out everything for us like most films that take us for idiots do, Sideways decides to attempt to appear impressive by using as many dollar-sized words as possible and going into as many unnecessary details about wine-tasting as possible in order to seem more refined than other movies, and if critics don’t understand all the references being made, then the film just has to be smart and witty!

Ah, but I’m making Sideways sound like a bad movie, and it isn’t. It’s a very good formula film that is grounded by four astounding performances. Madsen and Oh, in particular, do an amazing job with selling their roles, and by the halfway point of the movie you feel as if you know exactly who the characters are. Giamatti and Church both do well with their roles as well.

Wine country, of course, looks gorgeous. The locations are spectacular and the cinematography and direction are, for the most part, great. The film is well put together, no questions about that.

What I’m trying to tell you is that Sideways is a fine situation/romantic comedy that you will enjoy watching, but don’t go into it expecting the second coming, or even the first coming, for that matter.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Robert Taylor at [email protected].