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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Sideways

This movie is about men’s psyches, and men behaving badly. Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is cast as the loveable loser: a failed novelist and junior high school English teacher. He gives a stellar performance, perhaps even more noteworthy than in American Splendor, for which he was the critics’ darling last year, but did not get the Oscar. Miles and his college pal Jack are two forty-somethings who go on a prenuptial bachelor romp through wine country, tasting wine, playing golf and just letting loose and having fun. Jack is about to be married into a wealthy Armenian family, and he is the quintessential California party boy, an actor with a “hey dude” surfer-boy persona. He insists on getting Miles laid, Miles having been depressed for two years after his divorce from his wife Victoria. (He said of her, “She had the best pallet of any woman I’ve ever known.”) Jack is intent on having a final fling before his wedding on Saturday, much to the dismay of Miles. Miles is the wine connoisseur, and he guides his friend Jack about the beauties of the pinot grapes and why he loves them so much. He explains that he adores them because they are very delicate and can only grow in certain regions of the world. Jack is incredibly useless when it comes to wine tasting; he says that he likes everything, while Miles is more judgmental in his pallet. There is a point during one of their tastings when Miles asks Jack, “Are you chewing gum?” The two men hook up with Stephanie and Maya; Stephanie is a wine pourer at a vineyard and Maya is a waitress that Miles has known for a long time from his frequent jaunts to wine country. The two women are not portrayed as bubbleheads; surprisingly they are both intelligent and well-spoken, and highly educated about wine. Miles and Maya give speeches to each other about why they love wine, while Jack and Stephanie are running amuck in the bedroom. What Maya says about wine is absolutely lovely, “A bottle of wine is like a living thing. It doesn’t peak until exactly the right moment…” For a viewer who had never thought about wine that way, it was enlightening. All the characters are very quirky, even the minor ones. Miles’ mother, in the beginning, is a scream. She is an eccentric seventy-year old woman who likes her wine a little too much. That might explain where Miles gets his passion. Also, Stephanie’s mother, and also Jack’s fiancée, Christine’s parents, are very offbeat. The movie meanders around and paints a picture of their bizarre, yet ordinary lives. Jack’s lies and deceptions land both the men into trouble. He is an unbelievable philanderer, and Miles also has to pay the consequences of his actions. Miles has several nervous breakdowns along the way, one that is absolutely hilarious, when he runs down a hill in the countryside wielding a bottle of wine screaming. Never before is somebody’s agony so hilarious. The movie is a little too long, and it seems to drag in places. But the characters are what make it a gem, just getting to know them in their everyday lives. There are no special effects and there are no flashy computer generated images. It is a drunken ride, but well worth it.