Paul Giamatti, in typically depressed form, is an aspiring writer (his unpublished manuscript looks twice the size of War and Peace) and wine connoisseur who heads out with best friend Thomas Haden Church for a road trip through wine country before the latter’s wedding.Church is far more interesting in getting laid than in tasting wine, however, while Giamatti is still agonizing over his failed marriage (not to mention his perception of a failed life). He allows himself to be dragged by Church into all sorts of misadventures, but one particular entanglement,with Virginia Madsen, might perhaps turn out to be something special.
You know the screenwriter is male when the idea of Virginia Madsen putting the moves on Paul Giamatti isn’t supposed to raise an eyebrow. But let that be. As a portrait of two men unwilling to grow up, this is marvellous stuff. No small part of the film’s accomplishment is that it takes two patently unlovable characters and makes us care very deeply for them. With its gentle pace and expertly realized characters, this has the feel of an early 70s road movie. Amazing that it was made at all in this day and age.
This is a low key film, and the audio is low key as well, particularly when it comes to surround elements, which are few and far between, a barely audible background presence. Even the music hardly registers in the rear speakers. The (priceless) dialogue is distortion-free,though.
The picture is a touch soft, and there is some minor grain. The colours, however, look great,perfectly capturing the sense of perpetual California sun, and the flesh tones are accurate. The look is very naturalistic, and very much of a piece with the tone of the film.
Giamatti and Church do the commentary, sounding for all the world as if they’re still on a road trip. They’re having a fine old time, but the result is a bit wearisome, and I, for one, would have preferred hearing what director/co-writer Alexander Payne had to say. He does provide some written notes for the deleted scenes (of which there are seven). There’s the usual behind-the-scenes featurette, and the theatrical trailer.
Though the extras, in the final analysis, could be a lot better, the movie is heartily recommended, and on that virtue alone, the DVD is worth picking up.