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The Incredibly Overrated 'Sideways'
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I'm astonished by the popular and critical assessment of "Sideways." Also astounded, amazed, flabbergasted, puzzled, shocked and everything else you can find in the thesaurus along those lines. The film has of course been universally praised as a great film, one of the best - if not the very best - of this year and possibly many other years.

I've been viewing, and sometimes reviewing, movies for many years, and rarely have I seen a worse film. It ranks with the second feature B pictures of my youth and the generally even more dreadful direct-to-video and made-for-TV films of today. Never since the incredibly dull and pretentious "My Dinner with Andre" have I disagreed more strongly with reviewers.

My wife Gerry and I went with popular opinion and rushed out to see "Sideways." To put it mildly, we were terribly disappointed. It started out slow and got slower and I damn near fell asleep - or tried to fall asleep - several times, and we almost left the theater several times. By slow, I don't mean it lacked action, but that the movie lacked an interesting plot and that the two principal characters who carried the plot forward were utterly unsympathetic. They were losers. I know that was the point of the film, but they were uninteresting and unattractive losers in uninteresting situations. Who could really care about those two or what they were doing? Who could even laugh at them? I know lots of people - and critics - could, and did. But not me, nor my also long-time movie-going wife.

The comic or intended-to-be ironic and comic moments and the jokes were heavy-handed and painfully obvious, with none of the subtlety essential for true comedy. Gee, look at that guy sticking his nose into the wine glass! What a laugh! Better even than having him slip on a banana peel!

Maybe I've been in and around the wine country in northern and southern California and abroad too much to find the pretentious descriptions of a wine's taste to continue to be amusing. I find it as foolish and snobbish as ever. But I've heard them far too often and read far too many wine reviews and wine labels using such claptrap to get any laughs from their use as a principal source of a film's comedy. Over and over again we were expected to laugh at such descriptions. We groaned instead. It's also pretty lame to use someone's addiction as a comic device. (Or was that supposed to be a dramatic device?)

There were some genuinely comic moments, but they were few and far between and overwhelmed by the film's other moments. By the time they showed up, we were so bored and angry at the filmmakers and critics for subjecting us to such boredom that we couldn't appreciate them. They registered intellectually, but not emotionally.

The wine country in which the movie took place is certainly beautiful, but the film didn't show much of it. What we saw was mainly ugly - lots of freeway shots, tawdry motel rooms, badly dressed actors and such. Oh, but we did get the nude and love-making scenes that have become part of the formula of today's hack movie makers, along with the endlessly repeated "F" word and other devices designed to make their films "realistic." And of course we also got blood and violence, those other elements of the hack's formula.

We're wondering now how we're going to decide on what new movies to see. If the critics whose reviews are supposed to guide us consider "Sideways" great, where can we turn? Pauline Kael, where are you?

Copyright 2004 Dick Meister