A Film Review By Jason L. King

Rating:Rated R for language, some strong sexual content and nudity
Starring:Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh, Virgina Madsen
Directed By:Alexander Payne

Final Grade:

The year 2004 is winding down and yet another year in movies is about to pass. The Oscar flicks are milling about, trying to attract attention as the year closes and the holiday shopping season is coming to a close. But just because Christmas is over doesn’t mean that there still can’t be some great laughs and fun in store for you in the near future. Alexander Payne’s flick, Sideways, should be the perfect little comedy for you to ring in the New Year with.

Sideways is the story of two former college roommates. All grown up now, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) are celebrating Jack’s last day as a free man. No, no Jack is not going to jail, Jack is going to be married in a week. (Some people may think Jail sounds better than a wife, but not me of course…if someone is reading this… Umm never mind). Anyhow, Miles decides to treat Jack to a week long vacation filled with Wine tasting, golf and great conversation. But Jack has other plans on his mind. Jack finds himself falling in love with a girl he just met named Stephanie. With Stephanie in the picture, Miles to decides to take a chance with a girl he’s known for years, named Mya. Though complete opposites in nearly every way, Jack and Miles, best of friends, learn from each other about taking chances, making mistakes, having fun and enjoying life.

I really loved this film. This flick is getting a lot of buzz, some even calling it the best of the year, and it’s not hard to see why. The film was made fairly low budget, and it’s yet another fine example that a little independent film can really spark some attention. Snowballing off of the success of last year’s indie favorite, Lost in Translation and this year’s indie cult success, Napoleon Dynamite, Sideways is yet another example of great film making with out the big names and glamour that Hollywood normally provides. There is no good reason why the Academy shouldn’t at least consider the film for Oscars. With that being said, it doesn’t have to win, but it at least deserves to be recognized for the great little film that it is.

What makes the Sideways work so well is the humor works on so many different levels. There is a bit of something for everyone. There is more intelligent high brow humor for those who think they are “better” than everyone else, and there is some low brow humor tossed into the mix as well. As an audience member it is easy for you to either understand Jack or Miles because their characters in a lot of ways are just everyday normal people like you and me. No matter what type of person you are, one character or the other will probably remind you of yourself at times, even if It is just because of a silly comment that is made. Sideways does a great job of being humorous but not being so funny it’s annoying. Instead of films like Meet The Fockers, that rely on plays on words and people falling down to create humor, Sideways takes a stab at the more intelligent humor that we can all find existing in our everyday lives. The mannerisms, our actions, our reactions and more can provide just as many laughs and probably more than any Ben Stiller film (except perhaps Dodgeball) that was seen this year.

Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are fantastic in this film. Both actors do a great job on their own, but when they are together in a scene it is almost always golden. The two actors have a great chemistry on screen and even though they seem complete opposites you almost expect them to be best of friends off set as well. Paul Giamatti, who last year starred in American Splendor, is one of those great actors who just aren’t known. His name is becoming more and more recognized, but when you are a slightly round, balding, nearly over the hill actor, you aren’t always going to be one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. His Co-star Thomas Haden Church is an even lesser known actor who has had lots of bit parts but has never been given the chance to do something big on his own. Church is probably most easily recognizable for playing Lowell Mather on the TV sitcom Wings for quite a few years. Aging quite a bit from his days of playing Lowell, Church does a nice job of proving that he still can make audiences laugh.

If I had to find a few things where Sideways fails, I guess my only main complaint was that when Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church weren’t on screen together to me it felt as though the film stumbles just a bit. Those two actors do such an outstanding job together, that when they aren’t actually together on screen the scenes (though still done very well) feel like it is missing something. I can’t really explain it any better than that, so I guess you will just have to see for yourself. Some people may also find Jack’s morals to be a little twisted, especially since we are in a time in America where the Moral brigades are on patrol, but all it all the film still finds a way to make a somewhat “immoral” character so much fun.

In the end, Sideways may possibly be the best film I have seen this Holiday season. Former Box Office Boredom Critic Michael Haley and I have often talked about what constitutes a “truly great” film. I’ve always said a truly great film is a film that is not only remembered and loved by critics alone, but audiences as well. When the end of the year comes around and both critics AND audiences are calling it the best film this year, you know you have a winner. While the verdict is still out on Sideways, I’m going out on a limb and saying I think this will be that type of film. In Past years it’s been films like Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty, which have made their ways into most DVD buyer’s movie collections. Chances are those films are going to have to make room for a DVD copy of Sideways as well. If you go see any movie this Holiday season, there are a lot of great ones out there seriously consider putting Sideways on your list. Chances are you will be very glad that you did.

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