Since movie theaters aren’t showing any new films these days, I’ve been reduced to streaming films in order to find projects to review. That said Netflix continues to churn out new projects and one such new release is “Uncorked” which takes the typical cliché of a young man going against his father’s predetermined destiny for him to chase his own dreams and attempts to put its own spin on the scenario using the wine industry and the restaurant business as baselines. While on the surface it might seem like an unoriginal retread of an overused narrative idea, “Uncorked” manages to offer a little something all its own for viewers to embrace, but is this enough to help it rise above its familiarity? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Uncorked”.
“Uncorked” follows Mamoudou Athie as Elijah, a young black man with an interest in wines who seeks to become a Master Sommelier. However, his father Louis, played by Courtney B. Vance, wants Elijah to take over the family barbecue business while his mother Sylvia, played by Niecy Nash, gives Elijah her full support thus setting up the conflict of the movie as Elijah struggles to do what’s right by him and by his parents. As I said it’s a familiar setup that finds Elijah in some pretty tough situations when it comes to financing his schooling and respecting his own dreams and his father’s legacy at the same time. What makes this film work though is the performances. While “Uncorked” hits a lot of familiar beats the cast holds it all together well providing personal, believable and honest performances without coming off as too hammy or over dramatic. They play off each other well and every exchange feels personal and sincere which for me was the most gripping aspect of the movie.
It helps that these characters are (mostly) written with that realism in mind. The script flows very well from moment to moment making even the most mundane scenes feel engaging. The actors and director-writer Prentice Penny were also smart enough to manage pauses and the little moments properly allowing the weight of scenes to shine. In lesser films I feel like a lot of these moments would have been injected with added conflict or dialogue to spice things up, but like the fine wines “Uncorked” focuses on the movie gives its characters and emotionally resonant scenes time to breath and the viewer time to saver the awkwardness and tension within the moment. This might make “Uncorked” a bit of a slog for the average couch movie viewer, but for someone like me it’s a savory treat full of subtlety in spite of its admittedly cliché story elements. The idea of a young man, especially a young black man, chasing his dreams even in spite of his loyalty to family is in itself a great premise but “Uncorked” uses its solid acting and script, established atmosphere and setting and a fun soundtrack by Hit-Boy to take things to just the right level by immersing us not only in the lives of its subjects but also in the world and reality they live in while providing understanding and context to appreciate the father’s skepticism and Elijah’s longing for something greater.
But that does bring me to the downside of this film that can’t be ignored which is that it does lean heavily on what has already worked before in the past. Granted in a lot of ways it perfects these tropes and sets a different standard for how to insert these conflicts into a movie focusing on minority characters, but they’re still clichés at their core. This otherwise good film shamelessly borrows from every other child-parent conflict drama out there. It’s the kind of story that, as engaging as it is, you can predict the path of the story right from the start. While I won’t spoil exactly how it all plays out here, even with the great acting, writing and directing when I can tell almost every story beat you’re going to hit within the first half hour it makes even the best movie feel like you’re going through the motion. In that sense “Uncorked” offers few true surprises and barely attempts to subvert the expectations that come with it. But, to restate, even with its many clichés it’s how “Uncorked” handles everything else that makes it work. Everything around the story makes the otherwise predictable narrative feel that much more effective so in a way while it heavily depends on ideas previously established the uniquely genuine elements “Uncorked” does provide make it worth every second.
“Uncorked” isn’t the fine wine it probably should have been, but it’s better than many of its predecessors. It is weighed down by its predictable, by-the-numbers plot but it makes up for this by bringing together a committed cast, well directed human interactions and an engaging and smooth scrip to liven things up and does it all with a little added cultural taste focusing on the family dynamics of African Americans. It is a bit of a slow burn and definitely not the most entertaining picture you’ll see this year, but that’s not the point. “Uncorked” is a rare drama that knows what it wants to be and does it well, even if everything it seeks to say isn’t exactly new. Like the high style drinks at the center of Elijah’s life goals, this movie might not be for everyone and it might take a certain taste to appreciate what it has to offer, but it’s smooth and patient execution makes it an experience worth embracing nonetheless.