The [email protected]'s Sideways night: Eloquent Virginia Madsen, good wine, technical difficulties and flying corks

This being my first viewing of Sideways, I was as pleasantly surprised by the opening line of the film (a barely audible "f-bomb" grunted by an exasperated Paul Giamatti) as I was by the hilarious dynamic of the two friends, Miles and Jack. Their relationship mirrors a typical movie storyline: one friend (Jack) can get or do whatever he pleases, taking advantage of the second friend (Miles), who is severely depressed and  constantly down on his luck. However, placing these two friends in California's wine country on a weeklong getaway just before Jack is set to be married adds a new twist to a classic scenario.

The idea of this trip for Miles was to really connect with Jack as a person before he begins his life as a husband, but Jack is out for one last fling before tying the knot. [image-1]While traveling from one winery to the next, the two are joined by local waitress Maya (played by Madsen), and winery hostess Stephanie (Oh), who only complicate the guys' trip. As the film rolls on, we are shown the similarities between Miles and the Pinot Noir grapes he so deeply enjoys; like them, he has a thin skin and trouble growing, and must be loved and tended constantly in order to flourish. Or, at least, we would have seen these similarities if it hadn't been for a faulty DVD which managed to skip just as the key dialogue between Maya and Miles unfolded. However, the situation was remedied after the film ended, as Virginia Madsen kindly reproduced the gist of the lost conversation during the brief discussion panel with her, director Alexander Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor.


During the remainder of the panel, Payne, Taylor and Madsen fielded questions on topics ranging from Payne's use of split screens during some of the wine tasting scenes (turns out, he just really likes split screens) to how closely the movie follows the book (they are very similar, except for the endings). There was one question in particular for Madsen which I think invoked the most eloquent response of the night. She was asked if she knew, when taking this role, that the film would have such a large impact outside the world of wine. Her answer was no, but she said the script was such a good blend of comedy and darkness, and the chemistry on set so dynamic, that she couldn't help but call her own film " so beautiful, so right, like a beautiful symphony," which drew a standing ovation from some guests in the audience.

While agreeing with her statement about the movie, I'd have to also commend [email protected] for the evening as a whole. Aside from the technical difficulties, and the fact that a man at the table in front of me (who apparently had the sense of humor of a 10-year-old) was throwing wine corks at the people around him, the night was a great success. I'll just have to hang my head in shame for now, as my wine of choice is Merlot.

The chatter of well-dressed film lovers and wine connoisseurs filled the Vinoy's grand ballroom as guests sampled fine cheeses and appetizers, drank from a hearty wine list of Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays (but no Merlots), and settled at tables for the featured film, Sideways, starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. Various representatives of the [email protected], including Chair of High Five events Joanne Johnson, welcomed guests and spoke about the Studio.

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