A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie is NOT for kids. It's filled with very mature material, including extremely explicit sexual references and situations (with nudity) and some violence. Characters drink (there is a distinction made between the appreciation of wine as a work of art and drinking to numb feelings or get drunk) and use very strong language.
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What's the story?
In SIDEWAYS, Miles (Paul Giamatti), a struggling writer, and his friend, Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a has-been actor, head to the Central Valley for Jack's his last bachelor getaway before his upcoming wedding to a woman who is young, beautiful, and wealthy. The plan is to eat great food, drink great wine, and enjoy great scenery. Miles wants Jack to appreciate the delicate beauty of the wine. But Jack has a different kind of beauty appreciation in mind. When he finds out that an accommodating wine pourer named Stephanie (Sandra Oh) is a friend of Maya's (Virginia Madsen), the waitress Miles has admired from afar, he invites them both to dinner. Jack tells the women they are celebrating Miles' (nonexistent) book contract. Later he tells Stephanie she may be the woman he could spend the rest of his life with. Miles is not sure which is more terrifying -- watching Jack mess up his marriage plans by getting involved with Stephanie or letting himself take the risk of trying to start a relationship with the newly-divorced Maya -- who thinks she is talking to a man whose book is about to be published.
Is it any good?
In one of the loveliest moments on screen this year, Miles and Maya tell each other what they like about wine. Miles' favorite, pinot noir, is, he says "a hard grape to grow...thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early...Only when someone has taken the time to truly understand its potential can Pinot be coaxed into its fullest expression. And when that happens, its flavors are the most brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet." Maya says she loves the way that wine is a living thing, "constantly evolving and gaining complexity" toward its prime until it reaches its peak. They both know -- as viewers do -- that they are talking about themselves.
Giamatti and Church are magnificent, fully inhabiting beautifully written roles. They are not afraid to let viewers see the considerable flaws of both Miles and Jack, but they are also able to show us their humanity, their connection, and their appeal. Oh and Madsen may have the even tougher challenge, as the female characters are more superficially conceived, fantasy figures whose primary function is to desire and be desired by the men. It is even more impressive, then, that they are able to make Stephanie and Maya so touching and so complete.
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