So there’s these two middle aged dudes, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (some dude from a sitcom they used to have). Jack is an ex-soap star who’s about to get married, Miles is a depressed middle school english teacher who can’t get his novel published and is obsessed with wine. Together they have to stop a criminal mastermind who is poisoning the wine supply in the San Fernando valley and turning wine drinkers into an army of zombies.
Actually I made that last part up but what it’s actually about is they go on a trip into wine country the last week before the wedding. The idea is for Miles to show Jack “a good time” which to him means going around tasting wine and showing off that you know how the grapes were grown and what year it is and stupid crap like that. I mean in this movie you got people talking on and on about Pino this and 1961 is peaking and all this shit, they might as well be talking backwards, you got no idea what these idiots are blabbing about. Except when they start talking about how fragile the grapes are or something, and it is obviously a parallel to their own emotional state or their dreams or something. But I’m sorry, metaphors are not a good enough excuse for that kind of talk. Anyway, it works for the movie because they are good characters. You are not supposed to think their wine talk is cool.
But Jack notices that Miles is depressed and he wants to help him, by getting him laid. They end up hanging out with a pair of female wine fanciers who they really like. Jack tells them that Miles’ novel is about to get published, and Miles doesn’t tell them that Jack’s getting married on Saturday.
So okay, it seems clear where the movie is going. You got the whole falling in love deal, along with the keeping a secret torment, the eventual revealing the truth misery, the begging for mercy humiliation and the sudden, exhilirating proving love and making up ending. And by the way this is an Alex Payne picture. This is the guy who did CITIZEN RUTH, ELECTION and ABOUT SCHMIDT and they don’t call him payne for nothin. He’s real observant and honest about the kind of things that make a dude feel miserable and uncomfortable.
What keeps the movie going, well it sounds dumb, but obviously it’s the two characters and their relationship. Everybody knows by now that this Giamatti knows what he’s doing. He’s got this everyman schlub quality where you relate to him enough to forgive how bad he fucks up. I mean right at the beginning of the movie he’s literally stealing money from his mom’s panty drawer. That’s alot he’s gotta overcome. But by the time he’s getting drunk and calling his ex-wife from a payphone, you start feeling sorry for the asshole.
And part of the trick is that you relate to him more than to Jack. This guy’s about to marry some beautiful rich lady, and for some reason he’s goin around screwin these waitresses and wine pourers he picks up. And he puts Miles in the position of having to lie too because he can’t say, “By the way, I should’ve told you from the beginning that my buddy is getting married this weekend, he’s screwing your friend over.”
So Jack is a jerk, and kind of a dumbass, but he’s also right about alot of things. Miles is always talking shit about himself, saying his novel will never be published, that no woman will ever want him, etc. Jack seems to genuinely care about him and try to get him to be more optimistic. He’s a good character because he captures that quality of the longtime buddy who you now realize is an asshole but still hang out with and get in uncomfortable situations. But also he’s kind of a good guy, in a way. So he’s got some dimension to him.
Mr. Payne is real good at making characters and situations that remind you more of things that have happened to you than of things you’ve seen in other movies. But obviously this movie does get stuck in the formula I mentioned before, where the guy lies for a while then is found out and has to make up for it. And I have to admit at a certain point I was thinking okay, these are good characters and everything but this just isn’t as good as the other movies the dude made. Luckily, about 2/3 of the way through Paul Giamatti’s lie is found out, the movie seems to abandon that formula and goes off in an unexpected direction. Suddenly he has to go off and do something for his friend, I won’t say what it is but I was thinking okay, now that’s what I want, I did not expect this to happen in this movie.
We need more movies like that, where the movie ends and you are not at the place you expected to be when the movie started. For me this is one of those good movies where it seems better the more you think about it.
(I would not want to hang out with these people though. Or be in the same room with them. Might as well be talking about fucking anime the way they talk about wine. Keep it to yourself, winos.)
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.