There are plenty of good movies about writers. Adaptation, Sunset Boulevard, Barton Fink, the Before movies – Ethan Hawke´s character is a writer – Before Night Falls, The Shining and The Hours are all up there for me, but none quite capture the awkwardness and sensitivity of the wannabe writer better than Sideways.
Paul Giamatti´s Miles is made to suffer. Not only has he poured his heart and soul into a novel which it looks like no-one wants but he has to suffer the daily torment of being asked about it and suffering the sympathetic reactions of those who hear his answer. Then, during his week-long piss-up with Jack things get worse: he´s made to lie about being an author, about his book being published, and has to accept congratulations and toasts for something which he knows is untrue.
Worse: publication is his dream – the one thing that, Miles thinks, will validate his life, bring him recognition and get him started on the path of what he thinks is his true vocation; being an artist: a real writer.
The pain continues as Miles´ drinking is barely kept in check. Writers and booze are interlinked: mind-altering substances used alternatively for conjuring up and silencing the voices in their heads. When Miles finds out his book has been rejected again he goes mental at a wine-tasting, finishing up glugging the contents of a spit bucket. But who cares? The world has rejected him and he´s angry with the world.
Perfect scene: after an awkward late-night semi-romantic encounter with a girl he knows called Maya, they stop at a crossroads to say goodbye, each in their own car. Maya offers to read Miles´ manuscript and Miles, uttering the time-honoured phrases about honest opinions and not minding if she doesn´t like it, or finish reading it, reaches back to get the prized work. Up comes a box – size of a shoe box – which he hands over to Maya. As she takes it and prepares to leave he says, “wait!”, reaches back and lifts up another shoe-box: Volume II.
For me the movie captures the loneliness and desperation of the unpublished or unloved writer. One respected and admired by the outside world but also constantly punished and made to suffer by that same world. It is the torture of a writer seeking an audience, seeking a breakthrough which they must continue convincing themselves will come but which seems always just out of reach.
To go on with the punishment? To continue with the torture? To reach for the bottle? To keep going, trying to find that one reader? That one connection?
And what about you? Which do you think is the best film about writers, and why?