out of Five
Running time: 123
Sharply written, beautifully acted and frequently hilarious, this is
Alexander Payne’s best film to date.
Based on a novel by Rex Pickett and adapted by Payne and regular writing partner Jim Taylor, the film stars Paul Giamatti as Miles, an English teacher and failed novelist who’s depressed because his marriage has broken down.
As the film opens Miles picks up his best friend, Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a has-been actor, and takes him on a week-long wine-tasting trip around the Santa Ynez valley in California, as a way of spending some quality time together before Jack gets married.
Wine, Women And Mong
Miles just wants to drink wine, play golf and moan about his divorce, but Jack has other things on his mind: he wants to get laid and he wants to get Miles laid too. Accordingly, Jack picks up Stephanie (Sandra Oh, who’s married to Payne in real life) and arranges a double date when it turns out that she knows Maya (Virginia Madsen), a pretty waitress Miles has known for a while but has never had the courage to ask out. Naturally, complications ensue, particularly as Miles is under strict instructions not to mention Jack’s impending nuptials…
Paul Giamatti is having an excellent year, what with his impressive work in American Splendor and now this. He’s extremely good here, playing a character who’s acutely aware of how much of a loser he is; we strongly suspect that his obsession with wine is partly a cover for alcholism, particularly when he uses tell-tale words like “quaffable” during a tasting.
It’s also an extremely moving performance; there’s a devastating moment when Miles learns that his ex-wife has re-married and you can almost hear his heart breaking, the pain on his face is so intense.
Wine Is A Metaphor For Life
Thomas Haden Church might seem an unusual choice for the role of Jack, although his CV is littered with the sort of straight-to-video schlockers that suggest he’s actually perfect casting. At any rate, he’s very funny, in a performance that seems to borrow liberally from Jeff Bridges’ The Dude in The Big Lebowski.
He also gets most of the best lines, such as when he chastises a clearly the worse for drink Miles with the line, “Did you drink and dial?” Sandra Oh is also good in support, but Virginia Madsen delivers the best performance of her career as Maya – if there’s any justice she’ll get a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
The film is impressively directed throughout with Payne conveying Miles’s drunken state through effective use of wobbly camerawork. (This sounds awful but works surprisingly well). In addition to being crammed full of good lines, there are also lots of laugh-out-loud moments, with the climax coming when Miles has to break into a waitress’s house to retrieve Jack’s wallet.
In short, although the film slightly overdoes the ‘wine is a metaphor for life’ thing, this is a hugely enjoyable comedy with characters you really care about. Highly recommended.