Sunday, July 26, 2015


Sideways - 2004
Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church

The level of dysfunction that can be found in Sideways is about on par with the level of dysfunction my feelings have about this movie. It’s not as simple as an outstretched sideways thumb teetering between “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” though. It’s more “do I praise this film for its complex character study and exceptional execution of two absolutely different paradigms colliding and finding a disturbing understanding of each other on neutral ground” or “do I run this movie over with my car?”

Sideways focuses on a pre-wedding vacation where two best friends, Miles and Jack, head to California wine country to be bros and play golf and celebrate Jack’s last week of freedom…or at least that’s what Miles would like it to be. Where Miles seems to be using this trip as an escape from thinking about the goals and dreams that have gotten away from him (while clinging to the final hope he has that a book he wrote will get published), Jack just wants to fuck everything in sight in a place he knows his fiancĂ©e won’t be because damn…marriage sounds like a commitment. Together, this dynamic duo travel to a Podunk part of the West Coast, find two lovely ladies to spend some time with and tackle their fears and worries head on as they drink and bicker with each other on how the other person needs to get a grip.

Condescending asshole and Playboy piece of shit having
one of their rare "Friendship is Magic" moments.
I can’t really complain about the premise of these kinds of “come to Jesus” movies because those getaways are useful before major life milestones. Better even with someone who knows you that can keep you in check and keep you asking tough questions, and Miles and Jack do, regularly, despite the fact that they answer these questions with something that’s basically “shut up, I’ll do what I want.” The big conflict I’m having here has nothing really to do with the actions taken during this trip, but the characters themselves and that’s where my dysfunction lies. Can I be ok with a good execution of two very good stories about two people who I absolutely loathe? I laugh at the deaths of terrible people in horror movies like in not.

Miles is basically Frasier Crane if Frasier was a failed author and starred in a drama on Lifetime as opposed to a sitcom on NBC. He’s a pompous asshole using his snobbishness as a defense mechanism like how lonely Trekkies embrace ridiculous amounts of worthless trivia hoping someday the “Kirk vs. Picard” question will come up in a presidential debate they’re somehow a part of. He’s condescending and rubs in your face that, right now, he’s smarter than you, like M. Night (fucking) Shyamalan. This gets him passed the fact that he failed in marriage and can’t get over it even though it ended two years ago, can’t get a book published though everyone says he’s a genius and just leads the kind of existence where people would only show up to his funeral for the cake. He’s a deep person with deep issues that are completely self-inflicted and he knows it.

Jack on the other hand is a disappointing small time actor about to get married to someone I don’t think even he believes he deserves who is very attractive (I guess…I think Thomas Haden Church is permanently stuck in “mid-orgasm face” but that’s me), rich, and has lived a life that has been pretty carefree and without a lot of risk. It’s clear that marriage bothers him because that level of responsibility seems foreign to him. He is a shallow person with shallow issues that are only deep to him because he’s never dealt with anything so much as spilled milk before (or at least, the movie doesn’t really go down that road).

Like any idiot pre-wedding buddy movie the goal is simple.
Get all kinds of laid. Look at her eyes. Might help.
(Spoiler alert: It does in this case.)
Together they force each other to confront the error of their thinking and climb out of their self-destructive shells which I appreciate, but again, the dysfunction is that they do so by being genuinely terrible people. Condescending asshole and playboy piece of shit. The fact that this movie throws situations in their face that allow them to be those things where other people accept those things…doesn’t make them NOT those things anymore. So Miles found a girl that understands what he’s talking about when he’s spitting wine trivia back into a jar. Doesn’t mean he’s no longer an asshole about it because one person finds it ok. So Jack found a town where he can basically fuck anyone’s brains out and as a result has found “a special connection” that’s making him question his marriage. Doesn’t mean he’s no longer a playboy piece of shit because he can get away with it in this one location (kiiiiinda…).

So is the potential loss of these things enough to trigger some sort of response that makes Miles and Jack say “maybe we’re in the wrong here?” Or maybe that’s the point! Maybe they have gotten to see “a perfect scenario” and realized that it’s not that simple and as a result have decided to make some hard choices about how they look at their own lives. Or maybe they’re just both fuckwads living out a “National Lampoon for Grown-Ups” storyline and I’m overcomplicating this crap. They were drinking the whole fucking movie! I have no clue if they were in their right mind or having those “super deep” conversations that one has after 2 bottles of wine.

The tone of this movie suggests that it’s two whippersnappers painting a town red and learning more about themselves in the process. The 70s style music and directing (seriously? The quick zoom effect?) put out a carefree, “oh these guys are so silly and that’s why they’re perfect together” vibe but I can’t possibly see how these two are such good friends. They have nothing in common and there’s no friendly banter chemistry that suggests this is anything more than a Grindr date gone horribly, horribly wrong. But they carry each other through and I genuinely feel like they learned more about themselves and will be better people as a result. At the same time…I don’t think they deserve the life that allows them to just…get away with being the terrible people they were. Maybe that’s jealousy. I don’t know. I’m still conflicted here.

That being said, I’m doing the only thing that makes sense to me and giving this 6 dustbusters as it would be 6 glasses of wine (or beer) I would need to drink before really being able to wrap my mind around any of this…and even then I’m just throwing my hands in the air and saying “whatever!” Would I recommend it? …Maybe? I’d probably recommend Hall Pass first which isn’t really a better movie, but at least you know what it’s trying to do. Would I watch it again? Ummmm…I don’t know. Bring over a bottle of wine and we’ll see.

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