Text Size:-+

The First Real Good Discussion Topic About Sideways

Yes, I finally saw the movie Sideways (thanks for asking) and had a good time watching it and found myself laughing hard a few times, but didn't think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. In particular, I didn't think it nor the hoopla about it was worth discussing here. Yes it is a movie that incorporates wine and wine jargon, romanticizes it a little. OK. So what? But now, The New York Times has brought up a great question. How come no one is talking about the fact that the main character could easily be classified as an alchoholic, yet the movie basically condones his behavior, or at least makes us sympathetic to it?

This is worthy of some serious discussion. He steals money from his parents, uses alcohol as a crutch socially, and as an escape from emotional realities that he'd rather not deal with. Not to mention does things like drink from the bottle while driving, and in desperation from the spit bucket when in personal crisis. According to every criteria I've ever heard, that's a serious drinking problem.

The Times asks, why is no one talking about it? That's a very good question. Perhaps because as a society we are in denial about our relationship with alcohol and prefer to rail against the criminal and health risks of drug addition instead.

What do you think? Read the full article here.

Comments (34)

Barbara wrote:
02.20.05 at 1:38 PM

It's just a movie for heavens sake. It's made to entertain us.....although if it makes us think that is a bonus. I imagine the majority of people that see the movie don't have a drinking problem. Frankly, I'm more concerned about the anti merlot sentiment.

HugeJ wrote:
02.20.05 at 2:03 PM

Actually, I think one of the things about "wine alcoholism" is that it is often treated differently than "beer alcoholism" or "booze alcoholism".

For the same reason that wine gets a snobby reputation, so too do its addicts. Not justifying it, but I think that the public perception of somebody who drinks too much wine is less likely to include perceptions of somebody who is verbally or physically abusive or misses work or has other problems typically associated with the disease.

Although I'm usually the first to knock wine from its high horse, in this case I think we get a free (though undeserved) pass.....


Origen's Ghost wrote:
02.20.05 at 3:33 PM

Funny, when I first read the title of this post, I thought you were referring to the other character (forgot the name) in the movie, not Miles. He's the one with the obsessive behavior (seduction/sex fueled by alcohol) which is truly destructive. What d'ya think the chances are he's going to be married in 5 years?
Miles, while clearly abusing alcohol, seems to face up to his problems towards the end of the movie and is moving ahead.
But , as someone who has worked in the wine indusrty for 25 years, alcohol abuse is a real and forbidden topic. My estimate is that about a third of the people in wine production/marketing have some sort of problem.

Anne wrote:
02.20.05 at 4:46 PM

I agree, it is JUST a movie. We are so uptight, no one can just have fun anymore. I thought it was at times funny in a real human funny way, not the slapstick Jim Carrey funny, not the smart-aleck teenager funny, which I am sick of and find NOT funny. It is just a movie. Did Kill Bill get this kind of treatment from therapists.

Amy wrote:
02.20.05 at 6:01 PM

I guess I thought of the film as a prime example of "black humor" which is why I didn't have an issue with the portrayal of an alcoholic. There were plenty of other instances of despicable behavior, but it was presented in a way that made me laugh.

Alder wrote:
02.20.05 at 8:55 PM

For the record, I don't have anything against the movie. I enjoyed it. But as an artifact of culture, it's interesting to discuss, especially as it bears on, or deals with issues that are sensitive or under-discussed in our society. I posted this link because the wine media has been gabbing up a storm about how this movie is going to help to push wine drinking mainstream, and how great it was to see wine play such a major role in a film, and istn't it great that sales of Pinot Noir are increasing, and people are flocking to Santa Barbara... etc. etc. ALL OF WHICH I think are uninteresting, non stories.

This, on the other hand, is a topic that's at least interesting.

Kill Bill isn't as worthy of discussion because it's nothing new (Except for perhaps it's significant homage to Manga comics). And besides, this is a Wine blog, after all.

chuck wrote:
02.20.05 at 10:42 PM

i thought the movie did an excellent job of portraying the main character as using alcohol as his escape. hell, he didn't just drink to escape his pain, he used to escape from life. he's a likeable everyday guy that has some serious problems - much like our neighbors, co-workers, and maybe ourselves?

you want serious drinking problems - try watching The Wire (any season)... it seems pretty realistic, and if those are the people protecting us....

the brilliant Rescue Me tv show (with Dennis Leary) last season also did a very good job with alcoholism and denial.

Barbara wrote:
02.21.05 at 12:35 AM

A likeable guy! Are you serious? He was a pain in the butt....and a stereotype of the know it all wine guy at the cellar door.

fortna wrote:
02.21.05 at 4:34 AM

Good flick, way cool portrail of a dude in the throws of life's changes! BOOZE, DRUGS, SEX, TWINKIES--GUESS YOU COULD GET HUNG UP ON ALMOST ANYTHING. Drinking out the spit bucket, though is just a little . . . !


Stephen wrote:
02.21.05 at 8:50 AM

barbara, i agree with you about the entertainment aspect of the flick. movies are meant to entertain, but the part that rubbed me the wrong way, had to do with the loss of elegance. wine has been and still is in europe so sexy and elegant, magical, vibrant and alive. the vines are scary and twisted in the winter, then like dionysis himself they come to life with rapidly growing canes, flowers, then bunches of grapes. the bodegas, chateaus and villas are beautifully built, fantastic conglomerations of stone and tile, art and life.

where is the elegance, the sexy, the life and vibrance in sideways?? california wine country has been striped of elegance, and now has me wondering if it ever had it. i feel turned off by the california wine scene after watching sideways. although as a flick, not bad, not great, but fun to watch, that was for sure.

Noah wrote:
02.21.05 at 9:02 AM

I think the biggest misconception of wine in Europe is that it is elegant and sexy. Sure it is in some places but the vast majority of wine consumed isn't Lafite, its some crap mass produced plonk. When you drink wine everyday like americans drink milk, it isn't all that sexy. A fundamental part of your life yes, sexy and mysterious no. I think Americans diefy wine more than any other.

I honestly don't think your average European knows that much about fine wine.

STEPHEN wrote:
02.21.05 at 9:24 AM

you have a point noah, wine is not always sexy and elegant in europe, yet it is never trashy nor as you said crap. on the contrary, old world appellation restrictions prevent crap, very different from what is possible in new world wine countries.

as you said, some of the peasants in europe may not be wine savvy, but they can discern between aged weekend wines and young lively and fruity wine for everyday consumption. and despite the fact that they drink regularly and with nearly every meal, they never allow it to become trashy as the cali scene came across for me in the movie sideways.

so i do not think it is a misconception at all that european wines are sexy and elegant (perhaps not lavish, excessive elegancy), bc the wineries are indeed beautiful, granted some of the italian and french houses have become so large that they have been developed into factory-resembling buildings, yet the wine country, the land and people surrounding the vineyards are genuinely nurtured and well taken care of.

the elegance is found in the natural and wholesome everyday lives of the people, and mirrored in their wines. that can not be said for the characters in sideways

Barbara wrote:
02.21.05 at 11:51 AM

The NZ and Australian wine scene has it's trashy side also. There is nothing worse than the weekend groups at the cellar door getting drunk on the pretext of tasting wine. On the other hand I have also seen groups of young people with a genuine interest in tasting the wine and increasing their knowledge and palate.

jerry jeff wrote:
02.21.05 at 11:59 AM

he was definitely an alchoholic, though perhaps not as serious as some alchoholics. one interesting thing was how during a few moments they showed him desperate to drink as much wine as possible as quickly as possible. i guess this is like doing shots at a bar, but it was unusual to see somebody drink wine like this. and drove home how unappealing being an alchoholic is (especially the spit bucket scene).

Lenn wrote:
02.21.05 at 1:14 PM

This NYT piece caught my eye too...but mostly only because I didn't see, even for a second, Miles as an alcoholic.

I think that wine acts as an escape for a lot of us...maybe not to the extent portrayed in the movie (which I did enjoy btw), but an escape none the less. I know that when I've had a particularly annoying day at the office I look forward to losing myself in a nice bottle of vino when I get home or on a trip out to our wine trail the following weekend.

I too happen to be of the belief that movies are meant to entertain...let's not over think it too much.

Barbara wrote:
02.21.05 at 5:53 PM

I'm still waiting for someone to explain the anti merlot atitude in the movie. Is it a US thing? I have not come across it before.

I also never saw Miles as an alcoholic.

thecaveman wrote:
02.21.05 at 7:08 PM

I was waiting for it to come out in video but I guess I gotta see it now after following this little comment stream.
Stephen is dead on. In Europe, wine is simply a drink, and even more so, is considered an accessory to food. There is nothing elegant or sexy about it... it simply is a part of the culture, and one that everyone takes part in.
It is in most of North America where it has become a victim of marketing strategies that 'sectorize' the general population, and in this case, towards the 'cooly' generation. Wine is then percieved as a luxury drink for luxurious people, getting the ire up of all those schlitz drinkers.

Alder wrote:
02.21.05 at 8:11 PM


Merlot, like a lot of wines (though perhaps not so much as Rose wines) suffers from it's own popularity. Merlot is the easy drinking red wine that became fasionable and well known and widely consumed by the masses and so all other things aside, it has the stigma that anything gets when embraced by the multitudes. Perhaps not as great a stigma as poor White Zinfande, but still pretty bad.

The other thing about Miles' aversion to Merlot demonstrates is a widely accepted cliché in US wine connoiseur circles: Merlot is a souless, uni-dimensional wine that has little redeeming qualities when bottled alone.

I for one happen to not agree with this statement, but I must admit to having had my share of lousy California Merlots.

Hope that helps.

mike wrote:
02.21.05 at 11:52 PM

I absolutely think that the Miles character was an alcoholic but I don't think this takes away from the film.  All of the characters had their flaws and I thought the film did a great job of showing how each character worked through their flaws and, in most cases, came out of it a better person.  I recommend listening to an NPR interview with Rex Pickett (the author of the book that the movie was based on).  It includes some great insight's into the characters.  The writer acknowledges that Miles was a semi-autobiographical character and he freely admits to being a substance abuser during a difficult time in his life.

mike wrote:
02.22.05 at 12:18 AM

I was a little off on my last comment. In the NPR interview, Pickett talked about being on medication for depression but he did not talk about substance abuse or alcoholism. At one point in the interview he dodges around the subject when he is asked about the "drink and dial" scene.

jeremy s wrote:
02.22.05 at 9:56 AM

Part of the problem is that the movie has been made out to be much more important or meaningful than it actually is. I loved the movie, and while it had a lot of resonant points, it was essentially an effective buddy comedy. The other thing is that his lifestyle rings of truth. There are people that use alcohol in this way, functional alcholics who aren't necessarily destined to drink themselves to death or end up in the gutter but who abuse drink.

Jason wrote:
02.22.05 at 11:59 AM

I didn't think of him as an alcoholic, but just someone who was having a rough time and using wine - and his love of wine - as an escape. His marriage fell apart, his book wasn't getting published, and wine was something that he loved. It was the one aspect of his life that gave him pleasure. It could have been bird watching, but it was wine, which conincidently, is alcohol. When Miles and Maya were on the porch and she was talking about wine, you could see him light up and fall in love. It could have been any subject, but that was their connection. The movie didn't glamorize alcoholism. In fact, it showed how much of a loser he was when he abused it.

But, as some above have commented, it was just a movie.

Why don't we have a discussion about how "Cheers" was a popular TV show for many years, was set in a bar, had people constantly drinking all day, every day, and never discussed alcoholism? Maybe start an email campaign to get "Nick at Night" to take the reruns off of the air?

Just kidding!

Alder wrote:
02.22.05 at 12:24 PM

While there is one big difference between Cheers and Sideways -- to my recollection, no one on Cheers was repeatedly shown engaging in behavior that was clearly alcoholic in nature -- I think one could also have an interesting discussion about the role of alchohol and a bar in the lives of the show's characters.

By interesting I mean something that's thought provoking, and worth discussing because it brings up and involves ideas that we don’t talk about every day. And that's precisely the nature of discussion that I think is prompted by Sideways.

Joking aside, hopefully it's obvious I am in no way suggesting that Sideways was a bad movie or should be "taken off the air" or anything like that.

Dean wrote:
02.22.05 at 1:53 PM

Following the discussion from across the Atlantic, it is interesting to note that the preoccupations about the film are the same. As the organizer of Greece's No 1 wine fair, I was surprised to hear from a traditional wine grower that he was shocked by Miles's behaviour, although the more sophisticated wine-lovers were thrilled by the film... Anyway, the bottom line is that the film has brought more people into wine and that's what counts. Congrats to everyone involved and vinous regards from far away Greece...

vino4meplz wrote:
02.22.05 at 3:34 PM

The main problem I have with Sideways is that now it's almost getting too much Oscar press to the point where everything about it is over analyzed. People are going in expecting some huge, powerful, extraordinary event. I liked the movie a whole lot better when it was just a fun little indie film and story with great acting.

I rented Ray and had unreal high expectations as well..I thought it was just ok. But what do I know...

josh wrote:
02.22.05 at 9:23 PM

I thought that guy in sideways was a pretty negative portrayal of a definite alcoholic. I just thought it was realistic. It didn't consume him completely which was why I thought it all the more depressing. You kind of saw his capabilities and how he wasn't living up to them...

B's wrote:
02.25.05 at 11:10 AM

On the topic of interesting articles about sideways the WSJ recently had an article talking about how the tourist business in SB area has exploded. Sideways tours, people quoting the movie all over, wanting to visit the same winerys and people even having sideways themed weddings in the area. I guess only one winery would not let the filmakers use their real name.

Alicia wrote:
02.27.05 at 12:26 AM

I don't blame Fess for that, it was a pretty unflattering portrait of his winery.

Speaking of unflattering, there was an interesting article in the New York Times (here) where the reviewer argued that it was popular amongst critics because Miles had a critical temperment and the reviewers identified with him. I thought that was an interesting hypothesis.

Marie wrote:
02.27.05 at 9:47 AM

I have to agree that while it’s just a movie to some; to me it’s also a portrayal of many people in our society who use both alcohol and other narcotics to deal with their lives. The bigger issue here is why do so many people in our society feel that they need to escape their reality with: wine, beer or narcotics? I find it very sad and I feel that the movie, to some extent portrayed glamorize alcoholism.

However, that being said, the movie was fun to watch. The scenery was gorgeous and there were a few scenes I still laugh about today. It will surely be a movie that stands the test of time.

Bill wrote:
02.28.05 at 1:12 PM

The movie mostly illustrates the old adage that bad publicity is better than no publicity. No one would want Miles to be the spokesman for a winery or the industry. And itwould be too much to expect that people seeing the movie should say, "OK, if that loser is having Pinot, I'll take the Merlot!" Miles does have all of the problems the article mentions and more. It was a good job of acting. Did you notice that the two characters were also irresponsible about seatbelts? I'll bet that was a conscious choice by the director.

Alder wrote:
02.28.05 at 1:34 PM

Ha ! I didn't notice that. You've got a great eye for detail, and I agree, probably a very definite choice on the part of the director.

Nicole wrote:
02.28.05 at 2:14 PM

I enjoyed the movie and took it for what it is worth, entertainment. And, I believe that if we as a society are going to dissect "successful" movies (or any movie at all) for what some believe to be the glamorization of immoral or unhealthy practices that sideways is the least of our concerns.

johnny wrote:
03.01.05 at 3:31 PM

No question that Miles was an alcoholic. What I don't get is "why isn't anyone talking about it" part. First, I can't remember people talking about much else after that movie than what a pair of despicable characters they both were. More importantly, stacked up against the average character in the average Hollywood film -- muderers, drug lords, kidnappers; all par for the course -- someone who drinks too much wine is hardly a topic for national discussion.
Besides, Miles' most serious character flaw is that he enjoys Pinot so much. THAT should raise some red flags about depression in our society.

Terry Hughes wrote:
03.31.05 at 5:49 PM

Some of these comments are so hilariously earnest and serious...it was a charmingly funny and sad movie with quirky characters who did not blow up office towers or murder anybody...has anyone here heard of the human condition and "all the ills that flesh is heir to"?
The underlying message of the film seemed, to me, to be remarkably simple and affirming: Amor omnia [quasi] vincit.

Comment on this entry

(will not be published)
(optional -- Google will not follow)

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Buy My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Facebook Pinterest Instagram Delectable Flipboard

Most Recent Entries

Tallying the Damage from the Napa Quake Vinography Images: A Sea of Blue Vinography Unboxed: Week of September 14, 2014 The Taste of Something New: Introducing Solminer Wines Vinography Images: Swift Work Social Media Answers the Question: Where Did Australian Wine Go Wrong Hourglass, Napa Valley: Current and Upcoming Releases Drought Problems? Just Have an Earthquake Vinography Images: Just One Vinography Unboxed: Week of September 1, 2014

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

Archives by Month


Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.