The Red Right Hand

In Search Of Wine. In Search Of Women. In Search Of Themselves

Alexander Payne
Paul Giamatti
Thomas Haden Church
Virginia Madsen
Sandra Oh

In 1999 a rather strange film came out called Election. Did you get to see it? No? Well I recommend it, it's pretty funny stuff. Then in 2002 came About Schmidt, now surely you saw that or at least heard about it, right? Well this is the new development by the director of both of these, Alexander Payne. As the film opens on a blackened screen with sounds of pounding at a door, I was expecting nothing short of sheer brilliance, considering that Payne's last two offerings have increased as he's progressed. We are quietly introduced to Miles [Giamatti], a man living in a relatively plain but nice suburban neighbourhood. He comes back into his house after moving his car and makes a phone call, lying his way out of a hangover by saying that he's leaving the house there and then and that's when the comedy kicks in, we cut to him sitting on the toilet, reading. Then in the shower and finally flossing his teeth before even heading out the door. He arrives at his friend's house and we're presented more characters and you start to get a feel for what's going on. He leaves the house with one of them, Jack [Church], who changes from a quite robust charming guy to (comical) lout. This is the start of an abundance of moments that are simply filled with a ridiculous hilarity.

If I had started this review as I had originally intended, explaining how this is a film about a man who's getting married and his best friend who is a complete wine connoisseur, then it may have sounded a bit dull. Unfortunately this is how the trailer has portrayed the film but trust me this film is so much more than is revealed, filled with sensitive scenes and truly funny escapades. All I could think about as I left the film was, "Oh! Do you remember the bit when..." just reciting the movie word-for-word but really wanting to just watch it again. It's almost as if Payne's taken everything that was funny out of Rex Pickett's novel and brought it to the screen with such beautiful accuracy and substance. The finished product is a film riddled with problematic scenarios that our two heroes get themselves into.

The casting was spot-on too. I've always thought Giamatti's acting has been amazing but that he had simply not been properly recognised at the time but after landing the role of Harvey Pekar in American Splendor, he proved he could carry this kind of comedy. The second choice, which was clearly an important one, was the role of Jack. Church has that look about him, you kind of think you've seen him somewhere before but you can't place what - which is perfect for his role as an actor who hasn't been in mainstream acting for a number of years. No longer will he just be 'that guy in Tombstone,' not to me at least, because he's now earned a place with this role. Even though the character has no real arc and doesn't learn anything other than the value of his fiancée (although the look on Giamatti's face seems to imply that Jack could be acting), it's the way he plays alongside Miles and how they contrast so well. Miles mentions that they're not the same man, that he is just Jack's old college room-mate, turned best friend and I feel that this strikes true throughout the film as you begin to see how distant they really are in personalities, almost reverting to that college state: One room-mate wanting to go out with girls, drink, have sex then come back at 8am, whereas the other enjoys fine food and wine and is generally more focused.

In the true style of Payne this film deals with depression and life's meaningless and continual drag through time, but in a way that's undercut by a comedic line/moment. The poignancy of the emotional states that Miles goes through are so vivid and astoundingly portrayed by both Giamatti and Payne that you really feel for this man, you start to think that his life is so empty and pointless. You start to see it as he does, the best example of this is when Stephanie, Maya, Jack & Miles are out for the first time together and as Miles succumbs more and more to the wine everything dulls out and nothing really matters. There are cuts of Jack and Stephanie laughing at getting closer combined with shots of Maya getting a little disheartened by Miles ongoing distance from the group, which comes to a head as Miles has to go off and call his ex-wife.

Down to Earth acting, provided by the cast, combined with Payne's eye for the extraordinary in the ordinary makes for a rather touching and profoundly thoughtful movie that I think deserves the highest of awards. So many comedies were released throughout 2004 that reached out for greatness but fell miserably on accounts of poor plot structures, weak characters or simply bad acting; this film shows no signs of any of these and has simply added a new trophy to Payne's cabinet of success.

Release Date:
28 January 2005

The Scene To Look Out For:
Shortly after meeting with Maya and Stephanie, Miles gets drunk and calls his ex-wife, who he's just found out has re-married. This whole sequence is shot with a very tightly zoomed lens which blurs slightly and it's just a perfect visual representation of being drunk and depressed.

Notable Characters:
Being the man I am, I adore pessimistic depressive characters and Miles is just astonishing in the way he evolves and learns to live every now-and-then even though he's clearly a depressive and borderline alcoholic. The way he reacts with Jack too provides some excellent moments of comedy injected into scenes of heartfelt seriousness.

Highlighted Quote:
MILES : I'm the thumbprint on the window of a skyscraper. I'm a smudge of excrement on a tissue surging out to sea with a million tonnes of raw sewage.
JACK: See? Right there. What you just said, that's beautiful: 'A smudge of excrement surging out to sea.' I could never write that MILES: Neither could I, actually. I think it's Bukowsky

In A Few Words:
"Everything a comedy should be"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon