February 17, 2005

Lurching Sideways

So, my friends ask me nervously, "Have you seen Sideways?"

And they don't mean because I'm turning into a wine geek. And not even because I'm a 40 year-old guy with an unpublished novel and a day job. It's because of the whole Alexander Payne thing.

They've heard me tell it, it's one of my Red Badge of Courage stories. They've seen me get that the-abyss-gazes-also look in my eyes when I talk about it. And they shake their heads and mutter "that sonuvabitch" when I get to the punchline, as I know they will. It's a story designed to play into general antipathy against "movie folk". And, of course, it's true. But mostly, it's just a sad, pathetic little tale of two young guys trying to make something interesting in the middle of a funky cesspool of mediocrity, and one of the guys gets kicked, ever so lightly, in the balls (guess which one).

But now, 12 years later, I honestly cannot believe that I have carried a grudge for that long. I shudder when I consider the energy I diverted toward this relatively minor slight and away from the thing I do best, writing.

The details of the story are not very interesting, so suffice it to say Alexander Payne was mean to me. That pathetic sentence just about sums up the extent of my complaint. In my defense, I was young and I somehow expected better treatment, but of course, it's a Hollywood story and I was the writer, so you can see why my expectations were not just unrealistic, they were downright delusional.

Therefore, after a good, hard look back I cringe with embarassment and declare that I officially don't have any right to be a stupid git in regards to Alexander anymore. And I will not tell the dumb story again.

But, you ask (Oh, are you still reading? What a glutton for punishment you are) "Ken, what about Sideways?"

And I have to say, I did like it a lot. Actually, the things I liked most about it weren't on the screen (except for Giamatti, who really deserved an Oscar for "American Splendor" and I thought he'd get the make-good for another fine piece of work here). For me, the best thing about Sideways is that it got made, and represents the vision of a couple of folks (Rex Pickett who wrote the novel and Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne) and not an entire committee. And it's not afraid to be a modest film with a somewhat open resolution. And the music was aces, too.

The things I liked less were the frequent tone shifts, particularly the wallet scene and the spit-bucket episode, both of which seemed out of balance with the rest of the picture and lacking in emotional grounding. And personally, I kind of thought the wine-as-metaphor thing was a bit on the nose. I mean, the guy's a writer for fuck's sake. And maybe he's a bad writer, but wouldn't he see the irony in his Pinot soliloquy? Would it just flow out like that, without any self-consciousness? Don't get me wrong, it's a nice scene with good speeches and well-modulated performances, but it felt a little too much like a Scene right there. Then again, the bit right after in the kitchen where they kiss--that was magic.

Posted by krudman at February 17, 2005 08:34 PM | TrackBack
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