Sideways is a good movie, but not exactly transcendent. Touching and human and delicate, yes, definitely. But I couldn’t avoid a certain detachment from the characters. Or, no, that’s not right. I couldn’t avoid a certain detachment from the world they inhabit.

The characters themselves are sympathetic and interesting, even Thomas Church Hayden’s womanizer, Jack. He is not a particularly good person, but he’s our not particularly good person, and Paul Giamatti is a skilled enough actor to show us why his Miles might be fond of such a man. Even better: when something bad occurs, consequences exist and are not softened. And that makes the characters more believable and brings me closer to them.

But it’s a movie as much about wine as it is about relationships, insofar as wine is the metaphor used for people throughout. Which is also fine; I don’t know much about wine but I respect obsessions, and the movie doesn’t assume that the audience is made up on oenophiles.

What got to me, I suppose — no, that’s not it. I just spent half an hour writing a riff about how everyone in the movie loves wine and that separates the movie from reality, but really that’s not true. Then I tried to write something about how Miles is so much the loser that it’s hard to take wine loving seriously, but really, that’s not it either. If nothing else, the beautiful scene with him and Virginia Madsen on the porch kills off that theory, because wow, the way they use wine as a metaphor for themselves? That’s great.

And then it’s a whole contrast thing between the way Miles hides behind his wine obsession, while Maya — Virginia Madsen’s character — freed herself by way of wine, and that’s really cool. I thought through all that while I was trying to explain why I didn’t wholeheartedly love the movie. Go figure.

So what got to me? I’m not sure. I know that I didn’t feel wholly engaged at, really, any point excepting just possibly the very last shot. Maybe I felt, unfairly, that Alexander Payne wanted me to identify with the characters despite the fact that I had few points of contact with them. Maybe I just didn’t sympathize enough; maybe Miles and Jack were dislikable enough, in the shadows of Maya and her friend Stephanie, that I couldn’t feel warmth towards them. Hard to say.

I hear Alexander Payne selected the wine list himself. Maybe I just don’t drink enough wine.