Ride along with ‘Sideways’ this weekend

Jessica Hopkins

by The films chosen for the Fall 2006 Cultural Film and Lecture Series all follow the lives of characters who are traveling away from home, and reveal the personal discoveries that such escapes enable. Because a common theme in these films is that one must leave one’s surroundings to find oneself, they often glorify the freedom and appeal of travel.

The enlightening powers of the road trip are craftily demonstrated in Alexander Payne’s 2004 release ‘Sideways’, which tells the story of two friends who go on a wine tour in search of the best pinot noir, and in the process discover much more about themselves.

Character, rather than plot driven, “Sideways” follows its two protagonists, best friends Miles and Jack, as they embark on a tour of Northern California’s wine country. Miles, a cynical high school English teacher, is embittered and depressed over his recent divorce and inability to publish his book. Equally pathetic, Jack is a washed-up soap opera actor, too self-involved to realize his own failings. Prompted by Jack’s impending wedding and departure from bachelorhood, the two set out to find good wine and fun. Instead, in a number of comic, ironic and sometimes tragic events, they are forced to face the personal problems they’ve been trying to avoid, and discover much more about friendship, sex, loneliness and love.

While the road trip to self-discovery theme may seem clichéd, ‘Sideways’ is anything but predictable. Instead of idealizing the familiar motif of the “open road,” director and co-writer Alexander Payne, famous for such films as ‘Election’ and ‘About Schmidt,’ uses it as a spring board to both satirize and examine American society.

His characters are brutally honest and charmingly faulted. Although they make unlikely subjects of a major motion picture, they endear the audience with their hilarious antics and unapologetic humanity. Adapted by Payne and Jim Taylor from a Rex Pickett novel, ‘Sideways’ will be the first feature in the Cultural Film and Lecture Series’ Fall 2006 roster. Cast intentionally to avoid the hype of Hollywood big-name actors, ‘Sideways’ features Paul Giamatti as Miles, and Thomas Hayden Church as Jack. Sandra Oh plays Stephanie, a sexy wine connoisseur whom they encounter on their travels, and Virginia Madsen plays Maya, Miles’ soulful love interest.

Highly accredited for its writing, it is the first film ever to win best adapted screenplay awards from five major critics’ groups, as well as the Golden Globes and the Oscars. It will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 10 at 3:30 and 7 p.m., and Monday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.. Admission is $3.50 for students with ID and $5.00 for everyone else. The Monday showing only will feature guest speaker Susan Mackay-Kallis, who will provide an intro to the film and lead a discussion afterward.

For more information call the Communication Department at 9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS web page: www.culturalfilms.villanova.edu.