© 2000-2005 20th Century Fox

U.S.A./Hungary 2004

Opening 3 Feb 2005

Directed by: Alexander Payne
Writing credits: Rex Pickett, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Principal actors: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh, Marylouise Burke

This is a buddy, mid-life crisis, road movie. Some say it’s a “little” movie, but small is more in this case. Good friends Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) hit the road for a week of wine-tasting. Miles is the wine expert, teacher and failed writer. Jack is the aging jock, TV actor, and prospective groom. Miles visits his mother on the way out of town and steals her money for his trip. Once in California they check into a hotel in Buellton, famous for its windmill and wine. Miles lectures on the difference between Cabernet and Pinot and more specifically Cheval Blanc, Richebourg, and Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blanc. (Wine lovers should be in their element here and also recognize the meaning of the film’s title.) Jack grunts into the wine glass and again in the bedroom with Stephanie; Miles covers up for his uncouth friend and discusses literature with Maya. Jack is attacked by a jealous husband; Miles plays golf and drinks alone. They return sadder but wiser, and still friends. The film gains momentum from a quiet start, attacking your funny bone along the way, to culminate into a satisfactory, logical ending in an Armenian church and beyond. Giamatti plays the same kind of morose pessimist he played as Harvey Pekar in American Splendor. Director Alexander Payne always seems to have his finger on the pulse of mankind; just consider his other successful films Election and About Schmidt. In a nutshell: imagine Sesame Street’s Ernie and Bert on the road, discussing life. This film is nominated for five Academy Awards including best director, best movie, and best adapted script (from the book by Rex Pickett). (Becky Tan)

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