Volume 74, Number 27 | November 03 - 09, 2004

koch on film

By Ed Koch

P.S. (-)
The opening scenes of this film showed great promise, but it quickly stalled and went nowhere. Too bad.

The movie is carried by 39-year-old Louise Harrington (Laura Linney) who is the dean of admissions at a graduate art school in New York. She leads a boring life, shared with her former husband, Peter Harrington (Gabriel Byrne), and her friend and confident, Missy Goldberg (Marcia Gay Harden).

We learn that in high school Louise had a romance with a handsome boy, F. Scott Feinstadt, who died in an auto accident before they could marry. An 18-year-old boy named F. Scott Feinstadt (Topher Grace) applies for admission to the art school and soon enters her life. Is he a reincarnation of her earlier lover? Other coincidences occur.

Aside from a torrid seduction of Scott by Louise, the balance of the film is soap opera. An attempt is made to jazz it up with her ex-husband confessing to Louise that he had hundreds of affairs with women and ten affairs with men when they were married. This comes as a total surprise to her, along with his confession that he was a sex and cocaine addict. The dialogue is often ridiculous and it occurs with no flashbacks.

Marcia Gay Hayden, a superb actress in prior films, gives an inadequate performance in this one. Worst of all, this lousy script is a waste of Laura Linney’s talents.

“Sideways” (+)
This is a good film, directed by Alexander Payne, but it is not as good as many movie critics have touted.

Manohla Dargis writes in The New York Times: “Like the film itself, the performance is deeply controlled, played with restraint and with microscopic attention to detail. Mr. Giamatti’s dancing eyebrows, which rumbaed throughout much of “American Splendor,” only really start jumping during a late-act, hilariously ribald scene that Mr. Payne deploys to bring the film back from the brink of pathos. Among other things, this scene, which involves some queasy sex, President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, indicates that Mr. Payne hasn’t lost his edge.”

The film contains some funny moments, but in my opinion and the opinions of those who saw the film with me, it is not a comedy. HG said, “This is a coming of age story of two 50-year-old guys.” HS said, “It was an infomercial for California wine spiced with simulated sex scenes.” I found it to be similar to the old television show, “Marty.”

In “Sideways,” the two major characters, Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), appear to be sensitive souls but exhibit few admirable qualities as they deal with others.

Miles and Jack, college buddies, take a trip together through the California wine country. They have adventures and misadventures - different from those that occur in the film “Motorcycle Diaries” which is a delightful flick. Miles, a schoolteacher and unpublished novelist, is obsessed with vintage wines while Jack, an actor now doing commercials, is obsessed with sexual conquests. Jack is to be married to a nice girl in one week and is bent on scoring with as many women as he can until his wedding day. There are occasional humorous moments, but more often they are banal, and in the incident involving a lost wallet, unbelievable.

The performances of the two female lead characters, Stephanie (Sandra Oh) and Maya (Virginia Madsen), are equal to or better than the male stars. They seem more real with greater range in emotion and create deeper bonds with the audience than the shallower middle-aged guys.

As I have often said about the available flicks, this one is acceptable but it is no great shakes. The storyline is too far fetched; nevertheless, it can be described as a cut above the others. The happy ending makes you feel a little better about the movie.

  - Ed Koch

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