As with Jack, rather than simply laughing at Miles' tribulations, Payne and Giamatti flesh out the human being who's enduring them. Working off the talents of Haden Church and Madsen (whose steadying yet vulnerable presence is garnering much welcome-back buzz), Giamatti in particular takes us so far into Miles that we never see the freak-outs coming. Though perfectly twitchy and curmudgeonly, there's very little shtick to Giamatti's characterization: Miles is too layered and interesting and passionate to be merely pathetic. And while he may not have an actual cellar, he does have a stash of impressive vintages in the hall closet of his low-rent San Diego apartment.
When Miles crouches down on his hands and knees in the shag-carpeted hallway to pull a particular bottle from that closet, we're being set up for a subtle and emblematic instance of Alexander Payne's art, in which we discover, in a pensive, private moment of simultaneous heartbreak and personal triumph, there's more of real significance to this awkward guy and his obsessions than initially meets the eye. By simply living in the morass of daily existence while keeping his passions intact, Miles becomes, in the end, a kind of hero.
SIDEWAYS WAS DIRECTED BY ALEXANDER PAYNE; WRITTEN BY PAYNE AND JIM TAYLOR; PRODUCED BY MICHAEL LONDON; AND STARS PAUL GIAMATTI, THOMAS HADEN CHURCH, VIRGINIA MADSEN AND SANDRA OH. NOW PLAYING AT EDWARDS SOUTH COAST VILLAGE, SANTA ANA.