Where the wrath of grapes is stored

California’s wine country makes a fine setting for Alexander Payne’s new road-trip buddy film

Claire Joseph

Most Hollywood comedies rely on extreme situations and unrealistic characters for their humor.

Audiences of these mainstream comedies, such as “Meet the Parents” or “Freaky Friday,” can feel comfortable watching these outrageous affairs, knowing they’ll never actually be in such intense situations. These over-the-top problems are solved quickly, just in time for the film’s happy ending.

Instead of subscribing to the usual comedy form, director Alexander Payne’s newest comedy, “Sideways,” creates a situation for his characters that is both real and not easily fixable.

Payne’s undeniable talent lies in his knack for creating realistic humor that forces audiences to think about their own lives in respect to the lives presented on screen. Payne’s credits include “Election” and “About Schmidt,” each of which has helped to perfect his sense of authenticity in his films.

“Sideways” is about a week in the lives of Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), former college roommates who seem to be on entirely different paths. Jack is an outgoing, positive-thinking actor and ladies’ man, while Miles is a failed writer, oenophile and antidepressant popper who is too nervous to talk to a woman. With Jack’s wedding only a week away, he and Miles embark on a road trip, believing it’s their last chance at having fun together.

The two men drive to various wineries in California where Miles teaches Jack the wonders and intricacies of wine tasting. Jack vows to help Miles meet a woman by the end of the week, turning their trip into a search for sex as well as wine and camaraderie.

The men’s opposite character traits create believable humor. In one scene, for example, Jack and Miles argue about Miles’ dismal attempts to flirt with a local waitress. Although the event is not extreme, the opinions of both men are undeniably funny.

Even though the relationship between these two characters is usually humorous, Payne creates a sense of uncomfortable reality in many of his scenes as well.

For example, when Miles and his love interest, Maya (Virginia Madsen), are sitting outside on a first date, viewers can personally understand and relate to the awkwardness Miles feels.

Like Miles, at one time or another, most viewers of “Sideways” have probably sat uneasily with a new romantic interest, wondering about the next best move.

“Sideways” blossoms in this true-to-life narration. Its creation of real humor and, at the same time, genuine emotion makes it both a breath of fresh air and a chance for introspection for fall filmgoers.

“Sideways”

Directed by: Alexander Payne

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh

Rated: R

Where: Now showing at the Uptown Theater

Contact: (612) 825-6006