Rated R for nudity, sexuality, violence, blood, and a lot of language. Sideways is a more R-rated movie than most of us probably remember. I mean, I never even addressed that there's just a ton of drinking going on throughout. That's all everyone really remembers. But no, it's straight up and R-rated film. I was running on the treadmill, terrified by kids were going to come down and something really vulgar was going to happen. It's pretty intensely R. We just forget. R.
DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
It's the wine movie! In 2004, that's all we got out of it. Remember when everyone said that they weren't going to drink Merlot? None of us really knew what that meant. I still don't know what that means. I'm not a wine snob, despite taking a class on my honeymoon. I told a joke at the table that cracked up the rest of the guests and the instructor hated me from that moment on. But I don't think people really watched Sideways the way it was supposed to be watched. Sideways is kind of the Fight Club of independent drama. That's a really weird statement and I really need to back that up in the course of this essay.
Fight Club is a pretty great film that is completely remembered for the wrong reasons. Fincher, and by proxy Pahalniuk, is pretty damning of Tyler Durden's entire way of life. The movie makes this entire world look super sexy only to bring it down on its face. However, the big takeaway from the movie, by audiences, was to start fight clubs. The counter-culture stuff looked so attractive that, when the story shined a light on the absurdity of it all, the audience was still enamored by the setting of the film and lost the point of the film. The same probably holds true for toxic Rick and Morty fans. Sideways is a really deep film that happens to be outshined by the sexy attractiveness of wine country. There's a deep story there that challenges us. But Payne didn't want to be completely moralizing. He took the story of the manchild and entrenched it in the world of the wine connoisseur.
It's kind of smart, by the way, the use of wine? This is a story about the growing up, or not actually growing up. People think that they grow up, but men tend to be the man-children that they have always been. Listen, I acknowledge that I probably haven't grown up that much. I wrote movie reviews of things I watched when I was in high school. I just organize them better and swear less. I have a basement full of comics and I am trying to figure out how to schedule video game time in an environment full of kids and a wife. The same needs that I had in my youth still plague me now. Miles's obsession with wine is an extension of the obsession that comes with youth and hobbidom. It's so weird when people walk into my classroom and wonder why there's a giant blue box labeled "Police Public Call Box." I have a handful of students who think I'm really into law enforcement. Our obsessions are both self-gratifying, but are means of finding kindred spirits; those people who are obsessed about the same things we are. It's not what you're like; it's what you like. However, we associate a knowledge of fine wine as something fundamentally adult. It's not drinking to get drunk. It's drinking in appreciation of labor.
But that's Miles's big mistake. Miles, for all of his knowledge about wine and his years of obsession, drinks to get drunk...a lot. His entire life is a lie and he never really realizes that. He has created this persona that seems so mature and figured out, but really, he's as much of a mess as Jack is. Jack is there as a foil. Jack is the guy who has no wall. He is what he is. He is a bad guy. Everyone knows he's a bad guy. Miles is allowed to judge him all day. But the only thing that makes Miles look mildly heroic is the understanding that Jack is there doing something way worse than he is. And the thing is, Miles doesn't really grow. Okay, he grows slightly. But he keeps Jack's lie. I don't deny that it is an awkward position for Miles, narcing on your best bud on the day of his wedding. But Miles sees evil and wrongdoing wherever he goes. He's quick to judge and ride the high horse all day. But he's in a unique position to do something about it. Part of this could be read into the theme of childishness. Jack is a grown man able to make his own decisions and Miles's decision not to rat him out might be read as a respect for that boundary. But on the other end, because Miles as a character is the portrait of a man who is lying to himself, I read his choice to continue not narcing on Miles as a comment on the idea that he just wants people to keep liking him.
Miles, as a character, isn't rewriting his code through this adventure. His code has a very specific morality and none of that is really challenging. Instead, and this can be seen as a positive thing, is the idea that Miles has to learn to start loving himself. I agree that it is bad that Miles doesn't really learn the lesson about being liked and growing up from the events of the story. But I will say that admitting that he can't do this alone is a big deal. Payne's good at finding the real shift that people make in life. Miles is a sad sack at the beginning and he starts understanding that he at least has to try to be a better person to find happiness. Payne offers that hope that Miles will someday becomes self-actualized and a better human being. That's what gives him an opportunity with Maya. Maya isn't perfect. She kind of sucks in her own way. But Maya is at least trying. Their relationship, while flawed, at least comes at mistakes from a point of redemption. By acknowledging that Miles chose Jack over Maya, there's the understanding that the two will screw up, but it isn't the end. It's not overwhelmingly hopeful, but it is a realistic understanding of hope.
This was hard to write. I've been sitting on this movie for a week-and-a-half and I thought I had all this great insight. But sometimes it is difficult to write. The best takeaway I can give is that it is a movie that has been fundamentally ignored for its depth because people be lovin' wine. Payne knows how to shoot a pretty movie and he knows how to shoot an ugly movie. But the movie is more about what is going on than what is only aesthetically pleasing.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.