If you haven’t seen “Sideways,” a small independent film from long-ago 2004, and if you’re seeking an escape from our present troubled times with a funny, intelligent, sometimes risqué, sometimes bittersweet story that holds up well in 2020, stream or rent a DVD of “Sideways”
Yes, it’s pretty much of a guy film, but women play a significant part. I empathized completely with the male point-of-view protagonist, thanks to actor Paul Giamatti’s gentle, ironic, but compelling depiction of Miles Raymond.
Miles is a wistful English teacher, reading aloud poignant book passages to his students. A lot of reviews have called him “a failed writer”, but he is trying to sell his first novel and encounters difficulties on the road to publication. His literary agent calls him with another rejection and regretfully says, “This is a great book that has yet to find a publisher.” That’s NOT a failed writer. That’s a writer who is struggling against the publishing meltdown in 2000 and who has not yet learned of the incredible self-publishing opportunities that suddenly appeared in 2010. If anything, Miles finds himself in the black hole of publishing in the early 2000s.
A running joke is that readers, editors, and even the literary agent don’t understand the end of his book. Miles nods in weary resignation every time someone says that to him, including at the end of the film. Every red-blooded writer I know (including me) would yank out the manuscript and see how he or she could FIX it.
But Miles’ evolution as a writer is beyond the scope of this film. Indeed, he’s divorced, depressed, and in his forties with few prospects ahead of him. At one point he says to his friend, Jack Cole, that at his age, the only way women will be interested in him is if he has money, and he doesn’t. A cynical view of women, but there you have it. That’s Miles’ attitude.
Jack Cole is an actor semi-famous for his role on a bygone popular daytime soap, and Miles’ friend and former college roommate. The film pokes gentle fun at the foibles of acting fame (like “Once Upon in Hollywood” reviewed in March 2020). A handsome guy, Jack is soon to be married into a wealthy real estate family and Miles takes him on a bachelor vacation to the Santa Barbara wine country for relaxation and good food and wine. Miles, to his consternation, soon discovers that Jack is on the prowl for a last fling before he settles into married life.
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