…despite the moroseness of Paul Giamatti, despite the odd sex scenes thrown in, I love this movie.
It’s so well done, and oddly, I can identify with it in some small ways. It’s a touching film, and it feels very real. I’ve read the novel, which is actually much darker.
This movie depicts the week before Jack’s (Thomas Haden-Church) wedding, when his best friend Miles (Paul Giamatti) goes with him on a trip to California wine country to celebrate. Little does Miles know that Jack’s plan is to sow some last wild oats before he gets “tied down.” Partially due to the fact that they’re drinking throughout–which always leads to well-thought-out, rational choices–and partially due to their own buffoonery, nothing works the way they plan. It’s very much a “you reap what you sow” story.
Paul Giamatti does an exceptional job as the tortured artist. He’s also the stereotype of a wine-snob. Toward the beginning of the film, once they first get to wine country, he goes through the steps of wine-tasting, which is nice and informative until the very end when he goes as absolutely snobby as possible.
Now, stick your nose in it. Don’t be shy, really get your nose in there. Mmm… a little citrus… maybe some strawberry…[smacks lips]passion fruit… [puts hand up to ear] … and, oh, there’s just like the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese…
…Quaffable, but uh… far from transcendent.
Miles is dark and depressed, brooding and bookish–a very well-rounded character, and Paul Giamatti does a fantastic job with him. I’ve always liked Thomas Haden-Church in his comedic roles, much moreso than in his fully dramatic ones. This has elements of both. While Miles goes on about different elements of the wine, excessively over-analyzing it, at first Jack stars just repeating whatever he says, trying to look smart about wines, especially when Miles is at his snobbiest.
Wow. Strawberries, yeah! Strawberries. Not the cheese…
Eventually, he dumps the pretense all together, not even bothering with pretending to learn about wine, just saying, “I like it,” and knocking it back with a grin. The subtlety of Haden-Church’s acting is clear as he walks the fine line between complete sleazeball and warm-hearted friend to Miles. He looks out for Miles, he loves him, and they bicker like an old married couple–their relationship reminds me of a couple of my friends and me. In spite of disagreements and arguing, they love each other.
The two actors are well supported by Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh (I rarely see her in a light role, which is very different from Grey’s Anatomy). Virginia Madsen plays Maya, a waitress who really does like Miles a lot, but he shoots himself in the foot. Sandra Oh, as Stephanie, plays the victim of Jack’s amorous advances, who has a painfully heart-wrenching scene when she finds out that he’s married.
I love the metaphor of Miles as one of the Pinot grapes he loves so much.
“it’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It’s uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.”
This exemplifies what Miles sees in himself, and even how he’s depicted throughout. He’s a temperamental character who, in the end, hates himself a bit, and feels as though he’s being swallowed into nothingness.
“Half my life is over and I have nothing to show for it. Nothing. I’am thumbprint on the window of a skyscraper. I’m a smudge of excrement on a tissue surging out to sea with a million tons of raw sewage.”
However, Jack is there to talk him down. He’s there to take care of him, even though Jack has his own issues to deal with, like getting beaten up by a Stephanie after she finds out about his marriage…but he doesn’t learn from his mistakes, continually making bad decisions, like a three year old… This is a buddy film, at its core. I think that’s why I love it. Some of the content is certainly a lot to take, but in the end it’s just a well-made, exceptionally acted film. Deserving of a place on the top 100 list.
Also, the audio commentary is hilarious. It’s just Thomas Haden-Church and Paul Giamatti going on and on, making intelligent literary references throughout. Some commentaries are just boring, but this is well done and entertaining, just like the film.
Other Favorite Quotes:
“Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.
Miles: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any *bleeping* Merlot!”