Look 'Sideways' and he's almost like Johnny Depp

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Did you hear the one about the middle-aged writer guy who walks into his newsroom after the Oscar nominations are announced?

He's assigned to write about one of the leading actors in question.

He's you, his editor says.

Of course he is, writer guy says, knowing his barely perceptible Johnny Depp-ish-ness has always made an impression in the newsroom among, you know, the ladies.

"Paul Giamatti," his editor corrects.

Paul Giamatti?

You mean, Pig Vomit?

Giamatti, as most people know by now, plays the shlubby-looking, thin-skinned, temperamental, self-pitying guy who bounces off the walls of life in Sideways -- forever searching for identity, love, and a really good Pinot Noir. Giamatti, as was announced last week, was passed over for an Academy Award nomination for best actor, while writer guy's spitting image, Johnny Depp, was nominated.

Before playing the sad-sack guy in Sideways, Giamatti played the sad-sack Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland comic book writer portrayed in American Splendor. Giamatti stole Howard Stern's movie, Private Parts, where he played an NBC executive aptly nicknamed Pig Vomit. He was also in the remake of Planet of the Apes -- not to mention he was the voice of Tiger Woods' talking head-cover in those Nike Golf commercials.

Naturally, the writer guy cannot fathom how any of this applies to him. But his editor kept looking at him, almost suggesting that he somehow can relate to Paul Giamatti's body of work. Unsettling, to say the least. Legally actionable? Perhaps.

A lesser man (say, a loser) would buckle under this implied comparison. He would start feeling sorry for himself and start asking strangers questions such as, "Do you like me?" or "Would you be my friend?" This writer guy, however, is a secure man, a man who gets his clothes from L.L. Bean, thank you very much. But he'll play along -- even if he simply cannot relate to Giamatti's latest loser.

As Miles Raymond, Giamatti plays a failed writer and failed husband who successfully tastes wine during a buddy road trip with his hunky co-star (who was nominated for an Oscar). Virginia Madsen, who plays the beautiful woman who may or may not wind up as Miles' girlfriend, also was nominated, as was the movie itself, the director and writers. Probably even the guy who drove Giamatti to the set from his trailer every day was nominated.

Miles has a good heart, but in the end, who gets the really hot woman? The cheating fiance -- who also gets his nose busted and leaves his wallet in the home of a married biker waitress, that's who. No man has truly lived until he has picked up a married biker waitress and left his wallet in her home only to be pursued by her naked, tattooed husband. But we're not supposed to be focusing here on winners.

Back to Miles. He has a minor drinking problem, which only manifests itself when he is around wine, which is about all the time. He's clumsy around women. He's too "negative." He looks like that guy who works in accounting. He steals money from his mother but, really, who hasn't? He can't get over the fact that his wife left him. He gets drunk and calls her at home, which is always endearing.

Baby-boomer men are supposed to relate to this chump? No wonder our sons have a new film hero in Napoleon Dynamite.

To his credit, Giamatti's Miles Raymond longs to and does meet the right girl, a woman who understands the complexities of the thin-skinned, temperamental Pinot Noir grape. He longs to be a published writer, longs to fix his golf swing, and he longs not to be alone. He's so far from perfect, he's human.

My kind of guy, after all.

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