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John Simkin

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Alexander Payne is the most interesting director working in Hollywood: Citizen Ruth (1996), Election (1999) and About Schmidt (2002). His latest film, Sideways maintains the high standard he has set with his earlier films.

The film is based on an unpublished novel by Rex Pickett. In fact it is more correct to call it an autobiography. In the mid-1990s, Pickett was an unpublished novelist, broke, divorced, depressed with a strong interest in wine that he admits masked a serious drinking problem.

Pickett decided to write a novel about a never-published author, depressed, divorced, and drinking too much, who takes his closest friend, Jack - a hopeless womaniser who's about to get married - on a pre-wedding wine tour. The completed novel was rejected by 15 publishers. Pickett then had the idea of sending it to Alexander Payne. He loved it and decided to turn it into a film. This ensured it was published and Pickett is now a sober, best-selling novelist.

Miles, the central character in the film never gets his book published and remains a depressed drunk, although the last scene suggests the possibility that he will be saved from his dire situation. The second from last scene revealed that Miles is a teacher. In fact guessed that early in the movie – I have seen a few like Miles in my time.

Payne makes films for intelligent adults. His characters are never black and white. Jim McAllister (Election), Warren R. Schmidt (About Schmidt) and Miles Raymond (Sideways) are deeply flawed characters. However, badly they behave (in one scene Miles steals money from his mother), they show signs of a deep sense of decency. One gets the impression that they are all victims of their circumstances.

Like all depressed people Miles is self-absorbed. This also makes him an unattractive character. It is only when he becomes interested in the plight of other people, in this case, his mate’s girlfriend, Stephanie, can he be redeemed, although his decision to tell the truth creates chaos.

A heart-warming film with great performances from Paul Giamatti (Miles),

Thomas Haden Church (Jack), Virginia Madsen (Maya) and Sandra Oh (Stephanie).

The film can be rented on DVD.


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