I finally broke down and watched this much beloved, much ballyhooed Spirit Award winning film Sideways. My question – Do I ask too much of cinema?

1) This is independent? Of what?

Okay, the budget was less than a 100 million dollars and the actors are not household names, but does that make a film independent or just minor league? The director is decent, a little flash at times with some split screens and some questionable edits, but this is nothing I couldn’t find on a television commercial. The plot, while at times carrying great potential to break free from expected formulaic devices, often loses track of itself and its intent. The subject matter of wine, could you get more trendy? The spirit of this film is not that independent. It’s triple A, slugging Hollywood box office stats at best. And by the way, the Spirit Awards are just Oscar night dressed down. Nothing in competition doesn’t come with a million dollar deal. Independent Film – R.I.P.

2) Whatever happened to Steve McQueen?
When did men stop being men and when did they star being schlubs or overgrown adolescents? Paul Giamatti has played great schlubs before, especially in American Splendor, but this softer, cuddlier version of a modern, depression dwelling, pill-popping divorcee is pathetic. Sensitive, cultured, and introspective to the point of despair is no way to go through life, yet it seems to be a very common path these days. The alternate road is no gold highway. Thomas Haden Church at least does an admirable job of capturing the goofy arrested development that now constitutes manhood. The Maxim magazine lifestyle is about one degree different than the fantasy life of most 13 year old boys. Mix fascination for cars, girls, and irresponsibility with a metrosexual desire to appear as if you’ve only broken a sweat in a gym and you have the supposed modern man, but it’s a far cry from the gruff Steve McQueen allure that attracted women and made men envious of his coolness.

3) NPR needs some new cliches.
In some ways the wine-tasting, Bela Fleck listening, David Sedaris reading lifestyle is a leg up on PBR swigging, Skynard rockin’, Hustler reading lifestyle, but the NPR lifestyle has become a parody itself. Desperately, trying to remain hip to adult fads and trends is no better than making sure you listened to the same music and shopped at the same stores as all your high school friends did. I don’t mean to ridicule the news elements of NPR, but culturally speaking it as painted itself into a corner. Without realizing it, all these free thinkers have now found it hard to have free thought unless they get it from Morning Edition or Fresh Air. It’s no wonder that this movie got most of its world of mouth thanks to the NPR. It’s a great wonder that none of these educated listeners were able to see the cliches that filled this film. Then again it’s easier to go with a declared winner than to find one on your own.

4) On and Off Again
There were many times I nearly threw in the towel. There were many times I thought this film would save itself. It fluctuated between great and bad like few recent films I have seen, but the biggest problem came in the director’s lack of focus. For a while it’s about the two male friends. Then it’s about their relationships with the females they meet. Then it’s about wine. Then it’s about something else. The film falls to pieces more than once, dropping sub-plots left and right, only to pick them up later when another idea runs its course. Add to this the director’s decision to spice up the film with some visual bursts that make no cinematic sense and do not help the story or his occasional lapse into over-the-top tough posturing, you know “guy talk” that sounds totally phony coming from his two main characters. As a whole this film was never fully “on”. Yet, it seemed to keep most people engaged, even garnering a ton of praise. In my eyes it was sloppy. Perhaps, sloppy equals different than Hollywood, equals independent, equals good.

5) That damn analogy
Spoiler here: but since I was the last person in America to see this film, what am I spoiling? The middle school worthy analogy that the main character makes between himself a type of whine is one of the worst “deep” moments I’ve seen in ages. In verbose terms the character pussyfoots around the obvious. In describing his favorite variety of wine he describes himself – difficult, hard to appreciate, in need of someone with great taste. Gag! I know this film was adopted from a book so I don’t know if the beatings should begin with the authors of the book, the director of the films, or the film critics who did not call this out as being purely cornball.

I know I’m the dissenting voice speaking out against a Goliath of a film. But like wine, let this one age. Years from now it will seem like a silly time capsule, a love note to the new millennium schlub and that wine fad of ’04.


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