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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

Sideways (2004) on IMDb

Plot Overview

A wannabe novelist cum middle school English teacher Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) accompanies his TV soaps/commercials actor, friends-since-college buddy Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) on a road trip through California's wine country to celebrate the latter's imminent marriage. To establish their opposite personalities, we see a tardy Miles getting a late start and Jack hurrying to guzzle the wine. Miles is a connoisseur of wine and Jack an aficionado of women; they enlighten each other.

A waitress Maya (Virginia Madsen) explains, “If I opened a bottle of wine today, it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity.” That's their week long road trip in a nut­shell. If they pulled the plug on it and went home, they'd be in different situations depending on which day it ended. That's due in large part to the various women they encounter: Miles's Mother (Mary­louise Burke), his ex-wife (by phone) Victoria (Jessica Hecht), his publicist (by phone), and his “friend” Maya; Jack's fiancée (by phone) Christine Erganian (Alysia Reiner), his road hotie Stephanie (Sandra Oh), and his fan Cammi (Missy Doty.)


waste basketFrom Miles's mom's availability to plan Sunday brunch activities with extended family, we see theirs is not a family that attends church. In a deleted scene, Miles throws the motel's Gideon Bible in the trash. Not very religious, this one. He'll learn on this trip that his ex has remarried. Since he doesn't attend church or read the Bible, then he won't be holding any parochial views about divorce. It is what it is. As for Miles's hopes of getting back together with Victoria, Jack will advise him, “She's gone. Poof.” There's no point pining over her any more. Or to frame it in religious garb, so we have a trope we can apply to his friend, (Exodus 20:17) “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's … wife.” She's married to another man now. That's what Miles gets for his affair with Brenda.

Christine's family is Armenian. They have Orthodox icons on display in their home, and of course Christine's name itself is religious. The (2004) Orthodox were particular about insisting their members marry only to other Christians, either Orthodox or some other persuasion. Jack remarks about Christine's father, “how long it took for him to get over my not being Armenian.” Jack had plenty of time to convert to Orthodoxy or some other brand of Christianity, or at least to go through the motions—he's an actor, after all. They have an Armenian Orthodox wedding planned. The most important question asked of the bride & groom as they wed in an Orthodox ceremony is if there be any impediments to this marriage. And there's the rub, whether Jack will pick up an “impediment” on his road trip.

Their wine pourer Stephanie pours them full glasses rather than the customary trickle in the bottom. That prompts Jack to remark, “You're a bad girl, Stephanie,” where­upon she replies, “I know. I need to be spanked.” Their evolving relation­ship soon results in the following conversation between Jack and Miles:

Jack: “I might be in love with another woman.”

Miles: “In love? Really? Twenty-four hours with some wine-pourer chick and you're f__king in love? Come on! And you're gonna give up everything?”

Jack: “Here's what I'm thinking: you and me, we move up here, we buy a vineyard. You design the wine; I'll handle the business side. You get inspired, maybe write another novel, one that can sell.”

Miles: “Oh, my God. No, no.”

Jack: “As for me, if an audition comes up, L.A.'s right there, man. It's two hours away, not even.”

Miles: “Jesus Christ, you're crazy. You're crazy. You've gone crazy.”

Jack: “All I know is that I'm an actor. All I have is my instinct. You're asking me to go against it.”

He's telling Stephanie he loves her and adores her kid. She's the only one who rocks his world. He wants to move up there, get a spread, and work in wine. It seems to me this would qualify as an “impediment,” which is why he's been avoiding Christine's calls. Stephanie is the “bad girl” who has yet to be sounded out on this matter. Perhaps she would consider the looming wedding just another acting gig for her man.

Suppose Jack leaves her in place and goes through with the wedding, too. He deceives the priest about the impediment—it's not like these boys don't practice any deceit as it is. Then at Stephanie's request he boogies on up to wine country to take care of business. Can we accuse her of violating, (Exodus 20:17) “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's … [husband].” Oh, what husband is that? The one from the ceremony in which he declared there was not any impediment. Well, if it wasn't an impediment then, it isn't an impediment now. One normally breaks up with his other girl­friends before marrying the special one.

It's sort of like Miles's book, The Day After Yesterday. The publisher loved it but was unable to market it. They could have ever so fine a wedding with a bow on it, but they'd be unable to market it to Stephanie as a trans­gression should she inter­fere with the beaming “husband.”

There's an earlier scene where Miles must give his critical opinion on which of two cakes he likes better. After tasting them he says he likes them both. It's only after being pressed that he has to decide between them.

Production Values

” (2004) was directed by Alexander Payne. Its screenplay was written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, as adapted from Rex Pickett's book, Sideways. It stars Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh. Giamatti and Church gave strong per­for­mances. Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh weren't so bad either. Mary­louise Burke makes an early, marvelous appearance as Miles's mother. Jessica Hecht captures the end of the film as Victoria, Miles' ex-wife.

MPAA rated it R for language, some strong sexual content and nudity. An original score by Rolfe Kent featured a lot of jazz. There were a lot of shifting and super­imposed closeups of faces, table­ware and food/drink. The scenery was picturesque. The pacing was sedate, the film well written. The teaching about wine sounded very deep, but I'm unqualified to vouch for it.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

The plot lived up to the title: Sideways. I live north of California in a town that's a hippie enclave where some ceremonial aspects of weddings are some­times disregarded with strange conse­quences. People do what they do. If you can accept traditional values as part of the mix and just go with the flow, then you might enjoy this one. It's a gem.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good Date Movie. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall movie rating: Five stars out of five.