Miles Raymond, the wine connossuier at the heart of
Thanks to Jack’s boyish charms (and here I’m really using “boyish” as a synonym for “obnoxious”), Miles and Jack end up pairing off with two locals: Miles with the stunning Maya (
|Directed By:||Alexander Payne|
|Written By:||Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
Based on the novel by Rex Pickett
|Starring:||Paul Giamatti Thomas Haden Church Virginia Madsen Sandra Oh|
|Other Links:||Official Site|
Giamatti’s performance as Miles was easily one of the best acting jobs of the year–how he didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for his performance is completely beyond me. All I can think of is that Giamatti, normally known as a classic example of “That Guy” from any number of films, doesn’t fit the standard Hollywood concept of a “lead actor” as much as guys like Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx. The Academy already had a “character guy” in Don Cheadle, so the short, balding, pudgy, nerdy Giamatti gets left out, and that’s really a shame. Giamatti absolutely nails the insecurity, anxiety, hurt and disappointment of Miles. It’s a tough job Giamatti has for himself in this movie: he has to take a dishonest, weak mess of a man and make the audience care for him–and root for him. And Giamatti more than meets the challenge.
Madsen’s reponsibility in this movie is almost as tough as Giamatti’s: she has to make the audience fall in love with her right alongside Miles. She accomplishes most of that job simply by being luminous, which she does exceedingly well. But she’s also got to convince us that she’s smart, capable, and driven…yet sensitive enough to be attracted to a neurotic schlub like Miles. Maya is both Miles’ ultimate woman and his unattainable fantasy at the same time (or so he thinks; he seems completely oblivious to the near-constant “hey, I’m interested” signals she throws him). Maya, like Miles, is also somewhat broken: she’s coming off of a painful divorce and to her, Miles represents everything her ex-husband wasn’t and couldn’t be. As much as she clearly likes Miles, she’s tentative and conflicted.
Jack and Stephanie are, in many ways, the anti-Miles and Maya. While Miles and Maya both listen to their heads too much, spending hours on end talking, Stephanie and Jack fall into bed almost immediately. Stephanie wraps her heart around the shallow but loveable Jack; she’s needy yet passionate, emotionally fragile, more than a little irresponsible (we see her mother caring for Stephanie’s six-year-old more than we do Stephanie), yet an unforgiving warrior when injured. (This might be a good place to interject the fact that I don’t normally find Sandra Oh particularly attractive, but wow, she’s smokin’ hot in this movie.)
Church digs his way out from the cinematic detritus that is his recent film career to find a part perfect for his smooth egotism; it’s not hard to imagine that the once-famous actor Church is playing is a minor-chord variation on himself. Church reveals all in this movie–literally–as a man wildly out of touch with himself and what he truly wants. Jack is everything a woman like Stephanie could want–charismatic, wild, passionate, caring–and yet at the same time he disgusts her: he’s a liar and a cheat. Church, who (like Madsen and unlike Giamatti) was nominated for an Oscar for his work, brings both sides of Jack to life and finds surprising depth in a character that initially seems like one-dimensional comic relief.
Payne’s previous movies have been kind of hit-and-miss with me. I loved the hell out of the exuberant