Dreams rarely change their vintage…
Uncorked is an entertaining fish out of water family drama that does some smart things in subverting expected conventions and it all makes for an engaging affair.
Fueled by his love for wine, Elijah enrolls in a course to become a master sommelier, an elite designation given only to a handful that are able to pass its notoriously difficult exam. It’s a dream that upends the expectations of his father, Louis (Courtney B. Vance), who insists Elijah take over the popular Memphis barbeque joint that’s been passed down from father to son since its inception. Elijah struggles with the demands of school and a new relationship, while Louis wrestles with the feelings of his son rejecting the family business until a tragedy forces both of them to slow things down.
Uncorked serves as a great reminder that the importance of chasing your dreams shouldn’t come at the expense of any perceived obligations.
The debut feature from writer/director Prentice Penny is a decidedly solid affair from top to bottom and while it rides a familiar vein from a narrative standpoint it allows for a traditional coming of age type of story to be told in a fresh way breaking free from narrative tropes that have been seen in lesser movies before it. It has genuine flow with solid character development and it never once tries to hit us over the head with any clunky moments and allows it all to feel effortless and smooth.
Occasionally movies like this are guilty of trying to squeeze a round peg into a square hole by achieving various “tropes” of the genre but Penny makes this feel very natural, very honest and very earned thanks to not only his solid writing and direction but an ensemble cast that isn’t trying to force anything that doesn’t work. As audiences we’re not used to seeing an African/American young man who wants to be a sommelier, but rather than making it a big deal or make broad jokes about it, the film quickly allows it to be accepted as we move with a young man looking for not only his way in life, but acceptance from his family and highly regimented father.
Mamoudou Athie is quietly becoming a star who can carry a film and he proves it here. As the shy and unassuming Elijah he knows all too well of the pressures and expectations being put upon by his father to take over the successful barbeque joint that has been in his family for generations but he needs to find his own path. We quickly get invested in his well being from minute one and he makes us feel his uncertainty while trying to succeed in such a unique field; Athie is the kind of actor that we’re going to be seeing more from and I for one can’t wait.
Courtney B Vance carries his end of the narrative well as his stern but ultimately compassionate and supportive father Louis and both he and Athie work well together. Outside of Niecy Nash as the matriarch of the family there’s really not a whole lot of character development in the rest of the ensemble. It all works pretty well and even when it has an expected story beat in the middle of the film, it never feels cheap or lazy; rather it’s all incredibly honest.
Uncorked isn’t reinventing anything by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a solid and engaging little twist on a story that plays out far more naturally then you’d initially expect with a quiet honesty in its storytelling that you just don’t see everyday.