Book Club: Sideways Two Ways

As a lover of wine, everyone encouraged me to watch the movie Sideways when it came out in 2004. I watched it, enjoyed it, and bought it for my personal library. Then I ignored it for a few years.

Starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, and Sandra Oh, the story follows the pre-wedding trip of two old friends to the Santa Ynez wine country in California. Miles (Giamatti) plans a laid-back week of golfing and wine tasting while Jack (Church) is looking for a final week of freedom before settling down in marriage. The two are clearly at cross-purposes and the story is full of poignant and hysterical incidents. Madsen and Oh are fabulous in pitch perfect portrayals as the objects of Miles and Jack’s romantic affection. Madsen’s pinot noir speech will convince you that you never want to drink anything else again.  

When school let out, I was looking in the library for something different to listen to in my car and found Rex Pickett’s original novel on which the movie was based. It was an excellent interpretation, but it was also amazing how well the reader (Scott Brick) matched the cadences and tone of both Giamatti and Church. Since quite a lot of the movie dialogue is straight from the book, I suppose it’s not surprising, but this book just seems to be destined to be a movie. In fact, some reviewers said that it made a better movie than a book. Director Alexander Payne and Rex Pickett worked closely together in developing the movie script, and it shows.

I think that both the book and the movie deserve a second look (or a first one if you’ve never read the book or seen the movie). The movie leaves out some interesting plot twists but compensates by deftly changing a few plot developments to make a slightly different story. Both versions are enjoyable. There’s a reason why the movie is rated R, including a lot of graphic sex and language, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It’s part of the story; just don’t watch it with your youngsters, including teenagers. (Talk to my daughter about how watching American Pie with her parents scarred her for life.)

Summer gives us an opportunity to relax and expand our horizons. I suggest you do it with a bottle of wine and Sideways. As for me, I’m looking for a copy of Vertical, Pickett’s sequel to Sideways that came out in October of 2010. I can’t believe my library doesn’t have it yet.


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