There’s a first time for everything.  This week, Katie decided to make it the first time we’ve ever shown a Saturday Night Live sketch for the short feature.  That’s kind of remarkable, given how much great material SNL has put out over the years.

I guess he COULD fight his way out of a paper bag!

This particular sketch, known as “Liquorville” portrays a costumed Justin Timberlake putting the hip in his hops as he crashes Kristen Wiig’s teabag party outside her new shoppe.  It’s Justin Timberlake, so he sings and dances, and it’s recent Saturday Night Live, so Wiig makes some obvious Emily Littella-esque jokes about “teabagging”.  Lady Gaga makes a brief appearance at the end, but she’s not in costume.  Or maybe she is.  It’s kind of hard to tell with her.

The short tied in to the feature presentation with the “alcohol” theme.  Our movie, of course, was 2004’s Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne (he of Paris, Je T’aime’s 14th Arrondissement).  It kind of shocked me that this film is 7 years old.  It seems like only three or four years that I hadn’t gotten around to watching it.

One of the reasons that I hadn’t run out to see it is the mixed reviews.  Specifically, there are a lot of complaints about the characters being unlikeable.

Now I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think this is actionable

After seeing the film, I understand that point of view, but at the same time, I don’t think I agree.  I mean, I’ve seen films where I didn’t like any of the characters (The Science of Sleep, anyone?), and it really does ruin the film, but here…I think I kind of liked the characters in spite of themselves.

If only they had called this movie "The Hangover", we might have been spared

Paul Giamatti, left, is a lonely divorceé who adores Pinot Noir and hates Merlot.  Thomas Haden Church is a cad who gulps his tasting pours and opens rare sparkling wine in moving cars.  The two old friends are on a trip to the wine country surrounding Solvang, California as a sort of bachelor party for Church.

Giamatti didn’t really realize when setting out that Church’s real goal on the trip was to get laid early and often.  He doesn’t exactly approve.

Excuse me, I need to go drunk-dial my ex-wife

Still, it seems only a matter of hours before Church has found a love interest in Sandra Oh, and in a package deal he’s trying to hook Giamatti up with Virginia Madsen, a waitress Giamatti has flirted with on his many lonesome Solvang trips. Giamatti is too introverted to believe he could ever hook up with a waitress, but he’s in for a big surprise.

It's so hot when she makes her "me" face

Apparently, it’s really easy to land chicks in wine country, especially when, like Church, you’re willing to lie about almost everything. For instance, about Giamatti’s book, which he says is about to be published.

It’s not.  In fact, by the end of the week, his agent gives him the bad news that she’s giving up on shopping it around.  Nobody wants it.  It’s vanity press time.

Spit out more times - that wine or Giamatti's manuscript?

Between this and the casual news dropped by Church that his ex-wife is getting married, Giamatti needs a bit of a drink.

You snuck in a merlot. This is a g*****n merlot, ISN'T IT?!?

But he recovers from his disappointment well enough to make a tentative move or two on Madsen, while Church and Oh are pretending to be bunny rabbits.

You know honey, maybe you ought to buy a motorcycle helmet

Things are going pretty well, too, until Giamatti accidentally drops that little thing about Church getting married.  Madsen is, to say the least, not happy about that revelation, and not only does she break things off with Giamatti, but she also tips off Oh.  Oh is…less happy.  She beats Church’s face to a bloody pulp with her motorcycle helmet in an incredibly memorable scene.

The early Batman costume design did not go over well with test audiences

And that, you’d imagine, would be that.  Until Church, a washed-up actor who was once on a soap opera, gets recognized by a waitress.

It was at this point that the Waitress Anti-Defamation League filed suit

Umm, yeah.  He hits that.  And not only that, but gets caught by her even larger husband, leading to his losing his wallet at her house.  And now, only now, when he’s finally in peril of being caught for his infidelities does Church repent of his actions and realize that he really loves his fianceé.  It’s not exactly a redemption moment that measures up to Walter Sobchek’s “ashes apology”, but it’s something.

Naturally, it’s up to Giamatti to get the wallet back, which he successfully does at his own extreme peril and that’s that.  Oh, except for the fact that Church has to explain his nose.  So he deliberately crashes Giamatti’s junker car into a tree.

I call it "Still Life With (Honda) Accordion"

And since the first hit wasn’t quite good enough, he tries to brick the accelerator and do it again.  Except he misses the tree and puts the car in a ditch.  It is to laugh.  And with their return to the civilization of San Diego, the movie ends with Madsen calling to give Giamatti another chance.  It really didn’t need that.  Oh well.

Anyway, as I said, I can see why the characters are unlikeable.  Giamatti is spineless, hung up on the past, and a wine snob.  Church is a cheating, remorseless, but charming cad who ham-cries his way into redemption only after he’s gotten away with as much as he can possibly get away with.  But somehow, the movie makes you care about these guys.  You want Church to come to his senses.  You want Giamatti to get back on the dating track.  And while that doesn’t make for the best movie ever, it’s something.


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