Trivial Post #1: Sideways and Closer

We saw Sideways (last night) and Closer (a couple of weeks ago). Both are Oscar-contenders, and both can be placed in the "arty divorce drama" genre. I liked them, but was left feeling a little hollow in both cases.

On the positive, I appreciated the quality of both films. They are unquestionablly intelligent and nicely shot. Closer has some beautifully taut dialogue, and an interesting play between symmetry and asymmetry in the plot that would do Tristan Todorov proud. And Sideways has moments of neurotic, offbeat genius, usually involving the spilling of wine or the travails of flabby middle-aged masculinity. Also, Paul Giamatti's performance as the depressed wine aficionado and failed writer is a pretty classic -- the schlemiel sublime. (There were half a dozen moments when the dialogue reminded me of my own life: "So what's your book about? When's it coming out? Can I read it?" Argh)

That said, I found both films a little depressing. In contrast to romantic comedies and bildungsroman (coming-of-age) stories, divorce dramas are about coming to terms with a life that is somewhat less than expected. It's an important lesson, to be sure, but I still recoil from this type of film at an involuntary, emotional level.

I'm not sure where my faint sense of disdain for these films is coming from; three years ago I'd probably be raving enthusiastically. It's possible I've lately been corrupted by too many sunny Hindi films, which are almost always "comedy" (in that they end in a marriage), even when they have a serious component. Or maybe the American art house obsession with chronicling squandered intelligence (a tradition that goes back to Woody Allen, and before) has always been basically a waste of time, but it took me until now to notice it.

I prefer Before Sunset -- which I would happily watch again -- to either of these films.