Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

"I went deep last night" -- Thoughts on Sideways

Finally, the other night, I got around to watching the nauseatingly bally-hoo'd Sideways, a movie I knew I needed to see, but one I knew I had to delay seeing in hopes that my knee-jerk hostility given the unabashed critical worship it received would fade with time, and leave me more open minded.

Still and all, people I trust, noting the absurdity of the buzz the movie generated (as though it was really deserving of such extreme praise simply for foregrounding a less than handsome leading man), insisted it was worthy, if not brilliant or the best. movie. ever.

I don't do reviews, not in their proper sense. But I absolutely adored the movie and here's why: the movie provides a refreshingly nuanced and candid account of the oddity at the core of so many male friendships. Not in the insultingly reductive and vaguely homophobic sense confabulated by Jennifer 8. Lee in last week's Times, about which I have written here, and others have written elsewhere, but in the oddly competitive, sometimes mercenary, often awkward way it tends to occur around me.

Men -- people generally, but men to a far greater degree than the fairer sex -- are competitive animals by breeding (blame nature or nuture; the causative dominance of either wouldn't really change my thesis, as the symptoms are what interest me), and it's this that infects the most long-standing of male friendships in often bizarre ways. The friendship between Haden Church's and Giamatti's characters captured something of that root ugliness brilliantly, and with unflinching candor.

Armand at Bloodless calls it "a moving look at the life of an unhappy loser," but that doesn't do the film justice. First, it's implicit suggestion that Giamatti is the loser and Church isn't doesn't reflect the film; Haden Church's breakdown, temporary, self-pitying and rather pathetic, after being caught in flagrante delicto with the waitress in my mind exposes the lie at the heart of his lifestyle, a lie every bit as pitiable, ugly, and banal as anything one might ascribe to Giamatti. But really Giamatti's not nearly as self-deluded as Haden Church, and to me that not only holds the narrative together but indeed militates toward his character as considerably more heroic than one might think at first blush, especially given the filmic cliche of the loser that this movie plays with before discarding.

I have had, and still have, dear male friends with whom my interactions are seamless and gratifying, except when, infrequently, they aren't. The emotions that rise to the surface when the fragile equilibrium of two male egos in balance is upset, often for the most dubious of reasons, are among the ugliest I have known in myself, no matter how well managed, how fleeting. Indeed, I think much of what passes for the wisdom of age is found in the ability to manage these baser predilections and responses. Sideways unblinkingly peers into the abyss of serious male friendship, its often arbitrary formation, its unaccountable persistence, its sandlot pettiness, and its profound intimacy, and finds in not the saccharine edification of the treacle usually found in movies like these, the hollow sentiment of a handful of storyboards and wishful thinking, but the rough beaty of the real thing.

In other notes, I would twist the arms off of orphans just to wake up and fine Virginia Madsen, berobed, drinking coffee in my kitchen. And I might do worse for the privilege of hearing her rough voice, which has aged into a purr every bit as voluptuous as her stunning body, bid me good morning.


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