Monday, January 16, 2023

Recasting 2004 (supporting): "Sideways"

Right out of the gate, many people might think that Virginia Madsen's role in Alexander Payne's 2004 film Sideways would've been too young for Meryl. It's no secret that this is the type of thing that is often on my mind when picturing Meryl's characters, whether in my recasting projects, or in her potential future screen portrayals. It's possible I feel the need to defend the choice in this week's film selection, following roles that were originally portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer and Patricia Clarkson, who are nine and ten years younger than Meryl, respectively. Madsen is a full twelve years younger, but I argue that the film would've worked out just as well had Meryl been cast opposite Paul Giamatti. 

I should point out that Payne has remarked how he specifically didn't want big stars in the film. Apparently George Clooney had campaigned for the role of Jack (portrayed by Thomas Haden Church), but was turned down for this "star" reason. But let's just pretend that Payne was a fan of Streep's. I honestly get reminded of Adaptation when I watch Sideways. The two have a similar color pallette and lighting scheme (at least in my memory). Maybe it was just the style around that time. Had Payne also been a fan of Adaptation (which was released in late 2002), maybe he would've reached out to Meryl to see if she'd been interested in appearing in his movie (which filmed a year later). We'd get to have the fun angle of having the age gap between the male-female love interests being one in which the woman was older for a change. Quick example, 1997's As Good as it Gets had an age gap of 25 years between Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Not only is the 18-year difference between Meryl and Giamatti a good deal smaller, I think they look much more similar in age than do Nicholson and Hunt. But OMG who cares?! Moving on.

I can remember loving this movie when I originally saw it in the theater. It follows a pair of former college buddies, Miles and Jack (Giamatti and Church), who embark on what's supposed to be a week-long last hurrah in wine country before Jack ties the knot. Miles is a depressed high school English teacher and wine snob who's struggling to get his novel published (I can relate to the last part). Jack is an actor and walking hard-on. Miles expects the week to consist of wine tastings in and around Santa Barbara (where I happened to spend some time this past fall, which made watching the movie again recently a fun coincidence). Jack just wants to get laid. They run into Maya (Madsen), a waitress at a restaurant that Miles frequents. Jack pushes Miles to connect with Maya, and the three of them, along with one of Maya's friends who works at a winery, Stephanie (Sandra Oh), end up spending an evening together. I adore the below scene with Madsen. The way she talks about wine is about as sexy as a woman can get for Miles.

We don't get a ton of background on Maya. We know she's divorced like Miles, and she's commuting from her home to a college to earn a master's degree in horticulture. There's an interesting bit of mystery to her. It's the kind of backstory I imagine being fun for an actor to sort of backfill with their interpretation. As Miles and Maya get closer, so do Jack and Stephanie. Only after Miles slips and mentions Jack's upcoming nuptials does Maya dump Miles in disgust. Things have a hopeful ending for poor Miles, however, as Maya reads the manuscript Miles had lent her and leaves a message on his machine as a sort of olive branch.

I think part of what has made this movie appealing as a choice for this project (aside from me just really liking it) is that I've come to much more greatly appreciate wine myself. My husband has a specialist certification in some California varietal I can't remember off the top of my head, so we've dabbled quite a bit over the past decade. On top of that, Sideways is downright one hell of a good movie, with a wonderful combination of humor and heartfelt intimacy. I certainly wasn't the only person to think so. The film has a whopping 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 94 on Metacritic. It was also a major box office success, earning $110 million off its $16m budget. Madsen, along with garnering nominations at the Golden Globes, SAGs and Academy Awards for Actress in a Supporting Role, was honored with wins from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Chicago Film Critics Association, Independent Spirit Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. Not too shabby. 

P.S.--the next ten years of selections for this project might be a bit...well, let's just say, "unpredictable."


1 comment:

  1. Yet another movie on my list this weekend Jeff, I've heard what a gem it is. I struggled a little this year and opted for the role of Kate Winslet's mother in "Finding Neverland", primarily so we could see Meryl work with Kate as well as how good the movie was. The role was played by the talented Julie Christie.