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With the Oscar nominations looming on the horizon, I feel the need to point out that low budget does not necessarily translate into high quality, that past history offers no guarantees, and that “Sideways,” the critics’ favorite, is the most over-hyped commodity since Enron stock. This particular emperor is as naked as a jaybird.
Because I thought that “Election,” the earlier Alexander Payne-Jim Taylor collaboration, was terrific, and their “About Schmidt” was pretty good, I had reasonably high hopes for their latest. However, about five minutes into the movie, I began to get that queasy feeling one usually gets 30 seconds into a Jim Carrey flick.
Our protagonist, Miles Raymond, is driving up the 405 freeway while concentrating on a crossword puzzle. To this day, I have no idea what the scene was intended to convey. All I got out of it was that he was an irresponsible moron who didn’t care who he killed. Somehow, though, I don’t think that was the message.
Not long after he takes off with Jack, the movie lost all semblance of logic and reality. I was willing to accept that these two guys may have been college roommates, that having been a matter of chance, not choice, but not for a second did I ever believe they had stayed in contact for nearly 20 years, let alone that they maintained a friendship.
And theirs, we’re asked to believe, isn’t just a casual friendship, but one in which Jack would invite Miles to join him on his week long pre-nuptial romp. For not only do these two men have nothing in common, but they resent and totally disapprove of one another. For god’s sake, you’d think they’d spent all those years married to each other!
The next insight we have into Miles’ character is when the two of them flop at his mother’s house, scrounging up a free meal and a bed for the night under the guise of celebrating the widow lady’s birthday. Miles celebrates the occasion by sneaking into her bedroom to steal several hundred dollars from her bureau.
To compound the sin, as the two men are taking off the following morning, the tender-hearted lady asks her middle-aged son if he could use some money. In this miserable movie, that’s a laugh line.
Over the course of the two hours, we discover that this pretentious poseur has cranked out an awful novel, 800 pages of stream-of-consciousness drivel that nobody wants to publish and which even he, in one of his few honest moments, admits isn’t very good. We also learn that he takes no pride in being a high school English teacher, and we see that he obviously makes no effort to do it well.
We also witness this self-pitying lump pour a winery’s spit bucket over his head and run amok when he gets word that his book has been rejected by yet another editor who isn’t insane enough to confuse a puffed-up wine snob with Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky.
At the end of the movie, I could only hope that, for her sake, Maya not only wasn’t home when this whiner came knocking, but had moved out and left no forwarding address. Miles is one package who should definitely be returned to sender.
To be fair, the movie has a few amusing moments, and the acting is far better than the material deserves. But why anybody in his right mind would elect to spend his time and money in Miles Raymond’s company is beyond me. All I know is that once the ads touting all its Oscar nominations start appearing, people will be even less likely to question the emperor’s apparel and, presumably, even more likely to question my taste, if not my sanity.
All I can say is that it won’t be my fault if on your death bed, along with regretting all the TV reality shows you wasted your time watching, you find yourself wishing you had back the 123 minutes you squandered on “Sideways.”