Monday, February 21, 2005


I watched Sideways on an airplane, which is a terrible way to see a movie, but it seemed somehow appropriate for this one in its tininess.
Sideways is a wee thing, an extremely slight but nevertheless smart and enjoyable comedy about the messiness of attraction and affection. It's very well-written and performed, and yet having seen it -- albeit in the usual chopped-up and -down edit for airplane audiences -- I can understand why it has engendered something of a backlash from those who believe it has been overpraised.
When a cinematic work is deliberately kept small and within strict confines -- a "short story" as opposed to a novel on film -- it can inspire a "so what" response in a culture that responds to size and special effects.
But Sideways would be terrible if it were bigger. A cast of stars and a big budget might overwhelm and cheapen its quiet pleasures. Imagine it recast with Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts and you'll see what I mean. They're all fine actors, but much too recognizable and baggage-laden for this charming, sad, yet ultimately hopeful story about two buddies on a rambling, wine-drunk trip through the Santa Barbara wine country, and the women they encounter.
Sideways kept reminding me of Breaking Away, the small 1979 feature about a teenaged bicycle racer that received similar praise -- and a similar Oscar nomination for Best Picture -- before being mostly forgotten. That is not small praise. I loved Breaking Away, and I expect I will harbor similar fond memories of this one. Especially if I can manage to catch it on a better screen and in its full edit.