I was just reading a screenwriting article about ensuring your heroes have stakes, whether it’s fighting to survive or accomplish a major goal or overcome an objective. I was struck by the odd choice of one of author's non-fiction examples, a person I hardly consider to be a hero. In other words, they did nothing daring or valiant that helped their fellow man. And let’s face it, not every story is a hero’s journey. And thank God for that. Personally, I’d find that rather tedious as a writer and viewer.
One of my favorite films is Alexander Payne’s 2004 film Sideways. In this story, there are no real heroes. In fact, both of the main characters, Miles and Jack display less than exemplary human qualities. This includes Jack being a thoughtless womanizer and Miles stealing money while visiting his mother. However, in this story, I’d say Miles functions as the protagonist and his friend Jack is the antagonist, who creates some unexpected challenges for Miles during their week-long road trip.
Both of the main characters in Sideways have challenges they must face. For Miles, he must accept the fact that his first wife has left and isn’t coming back and overcome his hostile feelings about her impending marriage to another man. He’s also an aspiring novelist that must deal with reality of his well-written novel being too weighty and lacking the commercial appeal publishers want. For Jack, he must face that fact that his B-movie acting career is over and address his fear of commitment to one woman. For good and bad, Jack also functions as a catalyst during the duo’s road trip when he plays around with two different women. Jack’s poor behavior creates challenges himself and Miles that from a story standpoint creates an exciting week of emotional and physical turmoil.
If you have not seen it, I highly recommend watching Sideways. It’s a film not about a hero’s journey, but rather a compelling story about a flawed protagonist and likable antagonist. People just like the ones I know in real life.