So my good friend who lives in the San Fran area (I'm not from there, is it offensive to San Fransiscans to say, San Fran?) told me she almost went to Sideways and after reading my post, decided not to. Thank the lord. I'm not kidding, either. Let me explain more of why I hated it and why Stoker, a guy not offended by tough-to-watch movies like Requiem for a Dream and Monster, also hated it.
First of all, the film appears to be something entertaining: funny, great dialogue, good character development, etc. And it is, in fact, character driven -- our knowledge about the characters increases through their actions and words and is the focal point of the film. For instance, the scene where Miles (played by Paul Giamatti) steals money from his mother, who later asks if he needs money. Only a very pathetic, lonely and desperate man could stoop so low without breaking a sweat or bowing his head in shame. Miles seems past feeling.
In the beginning, there is this hope that the film will be a road trip movie along the lines of About Schmidt with heart tugging moments that force a person to confront the unattractive aspects of a normal life, without crossing lines of decency or morality. Sideways fails in this regard and in the end seems to be more about shocking the hell out of a respectable, adult audience. Granted, I'm assuming the average viewer is like me, willing to go out on a limb, but with limits.
Let me explain further. Sideways ultimately is not about good fun, or two grown men having a bonding, road trip experience. It's about depravity in men and portrays them as everything the media has depicted them to be: liars, unfaithful in their hearts and actions, thinking with their genitals, spineless, weak and unrepentant. I believe there is beauty in illustrating through film the drama and journey of the human condition, the ugly side of things, and how people grow and change. The stories are endless and each is beautiful and illuminating in it's own way. But there is a point when suggestion is more powerful and less alienating than showing. There is a distinction between glorifying debasement and revealing it as the ugly, lonely and hopeless thing it is.
I feel that Alexander Payne (the director) fails at this.
In Sideways, Miles and his friend are both men with no redeeming characteristics. At the end of the film I was completely horrified at their choices. There was no empathy created between me and their roles. To be blunt, I didn't give a shit about them and I honestly thought the woman Miles pursues is an idiot for giving him a second chance. Jack's character is basically a monster, sleeping with anything that will move. That's not the worst of it, though. I've never felt so sick in my guts, so on the verge of vomiting in a theater than I was during the scene where Miles watches a white-trash man having sex with his wife, while they both talk dirty to each other. And the dirty-talk isn't mild. It's graphic and violent and full of expletives. What's worse is that the husband walks in on his wife have anal sex with Jack, and he's aroused by this and is now 'giving it to her' because she was a 'bad girl'. I've never regretted walking into a theater more and I wasn't even watching. Yes, I was closing my eyes, because I have no desire to watch other people having sex. My voyeurism has limits. I enjoy watching a good story unfold. But I don't enjoy watching sex scenes.
Stoker was upset with me for taking him to a movie like that. I was upset with me for taking us to a movie like that. I love Stoker, you know, and maybe I'm just an idealistic idiot, someone who romanticizes sex, but I don't appreciate how the media turns something I consider good and intimate, into something ugly, harmful, and evil. It gets my ire up almost beyond endurance.
After we left the theater, I never wanted to touch Stoker again, or be touched by him. It seemed impossible to ever get past what I had just seen and had caused him to see by suggesting we go see the movie. I felt horrible for thinking he had actually enjoyed what he'd just seen, because why shouldn't I think that? The movie we'd just watched had created that reality for me. That men only care about sex, in all it's forms, and they just want to get their jollies any way they can. As we were leaving, Stoker said to me, "I can't imagine you're any less offended than I am." And we got into a little scuffle because I was so angry at everything, even him. But mostly myself. Well, we worked it out and I realized that it's completely unfair of me to not believe he is good. That he loves me and not because I'm just a nice body he can get his hands on. (Again, the things the media perpetuates that men are.) We both felt sick and the things he said he felt were the exact things I felt and we both wanted to leave the movie, but neither dared to suggest it, falsely assuming the other was enjoying it.
Eventually we both got over being hurt or angry, mostly me because I'd been thinking through the last fifteen minutes of the movie that he didn't care about the horrible, graphic sex scene (and I'm not kidding, it stretched on and on). I recovered. And Stoker said to me, "What gets me is that it's only rated R, not even NC-17 and there are 13-year old girls out there who can watch it." Because there's this awful scene right after the sex scene where you have to watch the white-trash man chasing after Miles completely naked. Huge, ugly penis and all shaking in the morning wind, right along with his flabby, hideous body. And I'll make this clear right now, I'm not horrified by naked men. I don't usually think they're ugly. Just that guy. Just in that moment because it was completely wrong that I was in that movie theater.
Stoker has a cute younger sister, who just turned 14. He cares about his sister and what she sees. And he transfers that to the whole word and all the little girls who might see the trash called Sideways. I'm with him.
For a complete breakdown of why this movie sucks and what other crap is in it that you may not want to see, in forthright, honest terms, visit www.screenit.com or go directly to http://www.screenit.com/movies/2004/sideways.html
Disclaimer: I really try to support independent movies and usually am not disappointed. Sideways is an independent movie and that's cool. But it still sucks.