Uncorked

uncorkedSTARS3.5The coolest thing about Uncorked is that it doesn’t cater to the viewer’s expectations.  It’s hard to explain what I mean by that without revealing important details.  Let’s just say for most of its runtime, this appeared to be a very predictable drama about family discord.  And then suddenly it wasn’t.  Oh but it’s also a “wine film”.  I put the phrase in quotes because there are precious few titles that oenophiles will exalt based on the subject matter.  I’m talking The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969), Year of the Comet (1992), A Walk in the Clouds (1995), Sideways (2004), A Good Year (2006) and Bottle Shock (2008).  Yes, this is a fine production.  If you’re a wine enthusiast, I suggest you add half a star to my review.  Your appetite will undoubtedly be satiated for 104 minutes.   Oh and watch the rest of the movies I listed too — that is if you haven’t seen them already.

Uncorked is a tale about family vs. ambition.  Actor Mamoudou Athie (Patti Cake$, Underwater) plays a young man named Elijah who dreams of becoming a sommelier.  His father Louis (Courtney B. Vance) is not happy.  He wants his son to take over the barbecue restaurant he owns.  Elijah’s mother Sylvia (Niecy Nash) works there as well but she’s a lot more understanding of her son’s aspirations.  Mom is nurturing and loving.  Father is distant and cold.  It may sound like I’m knocking their roles as archetypes (and they are).  However, in the hands of talented actors like Courtney B. Vance and Niecy Nash, the personalities are rather well rounded.  They make the characters sympathetic and engaging.  We’re invited to side with mom because she’s supporting her son’s desire.  Naturally, that’s a good thing but why shouldn’t dad hope that his son would continue on in the family business?  That’s HIS passion.  It’s this dynamic that is the selling point of the drama about parents and their children.  Empathy, compassion and difficult life decisions are key themes.

There aren’t many films centered on the appreciation of wine and even less that spotlight a predominantly black cast.  Uncorked just may be a first.  The story dares to acknowledge there are black connoisseurs.   In one of my favorite scenes, Elijah is trying to help his girlfriend make the right wine selection. “Do you like hip hop?” he asks.  She nods and so he begins comparing the varieties to their rap equivalents.  Chardonnay (“the granddaddy of wine, versatile, smooth”) is Jay-Z.  Pinot Grigio (“with a little bit of spice”) is Kanye West.  Riesling (“Crisp, clean sweet”) is like Drake.  A brash hip-hop soundtrack infuses the proceedings.  Although occasionally the boldness doesn’t always — shall we say — pair so well with the subtle events that are quietly developing.

Uncorked is the kind of overlooked flick that I love to champion.  Director Prentice Penny (showrunner for the HBO TV series Insecure) is making his directorial debut.  The feature — released to Netflix on March 27 — breaks new ground in some ways but is business as usual in others.  Not all human beings are conventional in their pursuits.  I already get that.  Women want to play basketball.  Men yearn to dance ballet.  The fact that the movie is about a young black American male from Memphis, Tennessee who wants to become a wine steward, is pretty unique.  Once we get past optics, we’re left with a solid, fairly predictable saga constructed around family conflict.  I would have preferred a few more twists and turns to captivate my attention.  The screenplay will actually give you one unanticipated development.  I appreciated that.  The chronicle also underscores some nuanced acting work by the main cast.  Approach this as an understated piece highlighting complicated father-son relationships but not as a drama where someone is trying to become a master sommelier. You’ll enjoy it a lot more.

04-02-20

6 Responses to “Uncorked”

  1. Not being a big fan of wine, or hard core rap, I just thought this was ok. I don’t know where this desire for wine came from. He suddenly just started talking as if he’d been interested since childhood. I don’t know. 2 stars

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    • I guess it developed out of Elijah’s other job. He had two: his family’s local barbecue restaurant and working at that upscale wine store. His boss encouraged Elijah become a sommelier when he saw his enthusiasm.

      Like

  2. Your concluding line is key for me. I know absolutely nothing about wine! (Despite my 2+ years working in a liquor store — I’m more a beer guy 😉 ) . I prefer to watch this for the father-son dynamic than the material subject matter. Nice review

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    • Actually, with the rise of craft brews, beer has its own connoisseurs as well. Historically I haven’t been into beer, but once I discovered double IPAs and stout, I totally got it.

      Thanks for continuing to comment, Tom. It’s nice to know people are still reading.

      Liked by 1 person

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