When I took Cynthia Whitcomb's screenwriting class, she warned that it might ruin movie watching. It hasn't, for me anyway, but I suspect it's a little like when a stage magician watches someone else's magic show and notes the misdirections, hidden mirrors and secret compartments. When a movie is artfully done, though, I don't mind knowing when the plot points are about to happen or seeing the theme-setting symbolism in the opening seconds of the film. And there's a great deal of art in this film (it won an Oscar for the screenplay, so one would hope).
That's not to say it's an Art Film (which usually means an opaque plot and glacial pacing); it's not. It is appropriate that the story revolves around enjoying wine, as an inexperienced palate may find this movie too slow and uneventful to be interesting. But that's only if one doesn't sense the subtle shifts and swirls of emotion, or get the pain and frustration that's below the surface of the main characters. Oh, sure it LOOKS like it's merely about two guys on a week-long wine-tasting bachelor party, where the groom-to-be is determined (despite being way too old for such things) to have one (or more) final fling(s) before getting married and also get his best-man buddy laid too, but it's about loss and growth and grief and hope, and Life.
That it works so well is amazing. We shouldn't like the two main characters enough; they're both pretty messed up and they do some rather scummy things. Yet, they're endearing and troubled and we don't despise them. Credit goes to the director, Alexander Payne, and Paul Giamatti, who gives an awesomely rich, multi-layered performance. I mean, who would have picked him for a romantic lead? Yet it works.
misspeacock praised how this film captures the tenor of the Southern California wine country, and I'll have to take her word on that. I will say that the countryside is beautiful and beautifully filmed.
And I can't imagine the movie having an ending that is any better for this story than it is. I'm sure it would still have been a great movie with a slightly different conclusion, but it's like the final sip of wine where all of the flavors mesh just right and you think, "Wow! That last bit was perfect." Even if early parts weren't so impressive, the finish stays with you. Very nice.