Synopsis - As small-time actor Jack (Thomas Haden Church) approaches his wedding date, he and his friend Miles (Paul Giamatti), a failed novelist, make a break for northern California wine country for a last hurrah. On the agenda is getting Miles laid. Unfortunately, their excursion results in a torrid affair for Jack and a reinforcement of Miles' doubts about himself.
Music - As I recall it was something like the film itself - not mind-blowing, but certainly elegant. There wasn't much of it. Some was scored, some were songs.
Acting - Paul Giamatti was an unexpected surprise. Having seen him do interviews and heard him do voiceovers (King of the Hill, et al.) as well as the occasional Woody Allen movie, he had made the impression on me of being an emasculated Italian with the neurotic anxiety of Adam Goldberg, and that is still the case, but I wasn’t expecting to find him so endearing.
The thing I loved so much about this movie is how realistic the characters were. While distorted in a typically filmic way, they still had a level of realness. Thomas Hayden Church’s character is a relatively unsuccessful actor who had a small but good run on a television show years ago and now does voice work for commercials, yet he clings to that his past in order to remain somewhat optimistic about his lackluster future. He gets cold feet before his wedding and decides to have an affair, and Giamatti, a writer who simply cannot get published, experiences the lethargy and self-loathing that those of us who are doomed to mediocrity experience. It’s easy to relate to both characters. The girls, however, are sort of sirens, not entirely realistic and in Angela Oh’s case, not entirely likeable. They are there to act as a catalyst for the self-discovery of Giamatti and Church.
The other interesting element of the film is the presence of wine, which is kind of a fifth character. It’s used in many cases by the characters as metaphors for themselves – Giamatti’s loathing for Merlot, which he considers to be a cheap and unrefined wine, his dislike for which he uses as a badge to pin on his dignity, and his love for Pinot Grigio, which is, as he describes it, delicate and hard to understand (an obvious metaphor for himself). Knowing nothing about wine, and frankly finding the whole thing to be somewhat pretentious, if not outright ostentatious, I was reluctant in a big way to even watch this movie, but I’ll watch anything for free, and found myself loving it. I strongly identified with Giamatti’s character, and frankly I enjoyed the foray into the world of a wine enthusiast, as it was done in a decidedly non-threatening and unpretentious way.
Other movies featuring these actors
Thomas Haden Church - Spanglish, Lone Star State of Mind, One Night Stand, Demon Knight, One Night Stand
Paul Giamatti - American Splendor, Planet of the Apes, Saving Private Ryan, Dr. Doolittle, Deconstructing Harry, Mighty Aphrodite
Sandra Oh - Under the Tuscan Sun, The Princess Diaries, Bean
Virginia Madsen - The Rainmaker, Candyman