Sideways

By Ewan McDonald, Reviewed by Ewan McDonald

Herald rating: * * * * *

Thelma and Louise for middle-aged men and, like so many of those lives, both very funny and very sad.

Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) is an English teacher in middle school with a failed marriage, a novel - The Day After Yesterday - that will probably never be published, and a serious wine habit that may be a cover for alcoholism.

Next week he will be best man to Jack (Thomas Haden Church), his college room-mate too many years ago, once a daytime soap star and now a voice behind TV commercials.

Before the wedding Miles is taking Jack on a week-long tour of the California wine country, which may be a seven-day stag night or another cover story. Jack plans to return the favour by reintroducing Jack to his bad habit: women.

Of course they hook up with too many bottles and two women: Maya (Virginia Madsen), waitress at Miles' favourite restaurant, and Stephanie (Sandra Oh, wife of Sideways' writer-director Alexander Payne), who pours tasting glasses at a winery.

It would be giving away too much to go into further detail about this beautifully realised four-handed tale, by turns gentle and heartbreaking, slapstick and literate and - like Payne's earlier About Schmidt, with Jack Nicholson - betraying an aching understanding of the divine comedy of everyday human life.

The DVD is a full, heady shiraz of extras. Payne introduces a brief behind-the-scenes and seven deleted scenes, both features highlighting the interplay between Giamatti and Haden Church.

The actors take over for an off-the-wall commentary that could have been recorded after one of the tasting sessions.

More extras are hidden behind Easter Eggs: a spoof of the behind-the-scenes spot, a 13-minute gag reel and a behind-the-scenes slide show.

* DVD, Video Rental 8 June

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