Thomas Harris reviews Sideways…
Sideways is arguably Alexander Payne’s most conventional film. However, under the guise of a different director, the film could have been conventional in a mundane way, however, through his deft eye for realism, Sideways is one of few American classics released in the noughties. Impeccably acted, witty and incredibly gentle, the film celebrates the midlife crisis.
Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church, two actors synonymous with broken male roles, perform with subtlety and almost a sense of naturalism. The pair never acknowledge their problems, drowning themselves in good wine, hiding their feelings under a series of incredibly well-observed moments of betrayal. The camera never protrudes out, instead it simply stays static, allowing the audience to interpret the relationships with no intrusion. Payne uses this throughout his career but it works best in Sideways.
Impressively, the vast amount of alcohol consumed throughout the film never signals towards alcoholism. The audience is fully aware of the desperation and existential loneliness that Giamatti suffers from and it’s through the use of wine that Payne acknowledges this. One incredibly bizarre moment perfectly sums up Miles’ character. Having discovered his ex-wife has re-married, Miles finds comfort in stroking grapes. In the hands of any other director, this would feel alien but Payne somehow makes it both incredibly tragic and very funny.
Alexander Payne, in a similar manner to Paul Thomas Anderson, has the ability to turn the mundane into the unfamiliar. Sideways is a film about more than just a road trip and a mid-life crisis, it’s heart-breaking, witty and beautifully observed. If mid-life crisis is anything like that of Giamatti’s and Church’s, we’re all in for one hell of a ride.
For more info on the BFI’s Alexander Payne retrospective, click here.