4 / 5 Stars
What a strange and delightfully surprising score Rolfe Kent's Sideways is. I'll admit that I've become a little jaded when it comes to film music. I suppose that I have listened to a bit too many scores, but give me the scenario and I can pretty well tell you what style of music will accompany it. So when I read that Sideways concerns the exploits of two middle-aged men, one of whom is about to be married, on a wine-tasting trip in California, I immediately thought "nostalgic pop music with a light score."
Since I also read that Alexander Payne, who wickedly skewered my expectations for typical high school comedies in Election, was Sideway's director, I should have known better. But I ignored that fact, and when I sat down to listen to the score, I stopped for a moment, concerned that I had accidentally put in an old 1960s jazz album. I checked, and, yes, I was listening to Sideways. Here is an album (for that word fits better than the sobriquet "score") that doesn't sound like film music today. Instead it plays like a jazz record. In fact, just like a jazz record, I'm going to list the outstanding musicians who played on the session: Roger Burn (vibraphone), Pedro Eustache (flute), Ron Feuer (piano), Dan Higgins (sax), Dan Savant (trumpet), Paul Morin and Dave Carpenter (bass), Alex Acuna, Luis Conte and Tiki Pasills (percussion) and Will Kennedy (drums). They are all excellent, have a tight ensemble sound, and are obviously enjoying themselves enormously.
Rolfe Kent, who has made his name scoring comedies like Legally Blonde and Mean Girls, here writes an intelligent score that has little to do with the movie beyond ambiance. Most composers try to match screen action very closely, heightening the drama through little touches. Kent, working closely with Payne, chose instead to match the atmosphere of a 1960s Italian film since Sideways takes place in the sun-dappled vineyards of California. The score was even recorded on an old valve based mixing board to give it a retro sound.
As a result, Sideways is an album you can listen to without knowledge of the film it accompanies. The close symbiosis between sight and sound that we are used to is not as close in this pairing. Does that mean Sideways is not a successful score? Well, it depends on how you look at things. If you believe the only successful film music exists solely to support the film it accompanies, then you might find Sideways a disappointment. I personally enjoy a little surprise every once and a while, and Sideways provides that on many levels. It is well crafted, moves briskly along, always keeping your interest, and is simply an enjoyable listening experience. For those reasons alone I'm recommending this score and think Kent deserves the accolades that have been coming his way due to his work here. I think we'll be hearing a lot more out of him in the future.