'Sideways' begins and ends with someone knocking on a door. Insert metaphor for life here. Lord knows every critic has. But I wasn't gobsmacked by the film when I first saw it back in September. When critics touted it as the second coming later that fall, I was gobsmacked by their gobsmackment. I finally saw 'Sideways' a second time last night, and now I understand, though don't necessarily agree, with the effusive reception.
Two hundred and sixty-seven movies were released theatrically in 2004. Most were gutter trash. After months of watching gutter trash, 'Sideways' provided a sliver of light, a breath of fresh air, for critics who were probably ready to stab themselves with their ballpoint pens. With no other savior in sight, 'Sideways' became the life raft. And it certainly deserves the title: It's a smartly acted, well-put-together movie reminiscent of the golden age of movies in the 1970s, when films were made for people first and profit second. I understand now. I don't understand what Virginia Madsen's character sees in Paul Giamatti's, even though Madsen beautifully conveys the need to desire someone, anyone, in those intoxicating eyes of hers. But why Miles? Perhaps the movie shouldn't hinge on that, but it does for me.
Regardless. "Rarely does a comedy come along that deserves to be taken seriously." That is what Fox Searchlight is plastering in black lettering over glossy burnished gold ads in Variety. It is the best assessment of the movie I've come across. 'Sideways' is funny, but it is informed by sadness and regret. Taking it seriously, for me, means something other than seriously considering it for awards.