Friday, March 27, 2020

Review: Uncorked

Release date: March 27, 2020
Running time: 104 minutes
Starring: Courtney B. Vance, Niecy Nash, Mamoudou Athie

Uncorked is the story of a young man Elijah (Athie) who is torn between pursing his dream in being a master sommelier or following the wishes of his father and taking over the family BBQ business.  Elijah's dream is to be one of the few master sommeliers in the country, but in order to do that, he has to go to expensive school and disappoint his father, who is grooming him to take over the business.  Not only will he have to handle the pressures of school, he also has to deal with his father's passive aggressive feelings of rejection.  However, Elijah has the support of his mother Sylvia (Nash), who helps keep his father Louis (Vance) in line.  

Written and directed by Prentice Penny in his directorial debut, this film takes personal reflections and experiences from his own family history.  Having a story told by a black person about a black family based around a father son relationship that doesn't fall into the standard tropes about black father's being absent from their family is a truly special experience and, unfortunately, rare for this genre.  The father in this film is doing everything he can to keep the family in the business, and I am glad that this film is able to portray the strong family structure in this way.  Seeing a loving, strongly bonded family with the women being the true matron is likewise infrequent.  I definitely appreciated Penny's display of a black family working together though challenges, drama, and disagreements without those disagreements turning into chaos.  Bravo for this portrayal and for providing a strong, non-stereotypical family unit.

And aside from the family, the movie itself is very unconventional.  For starters, Elijah wants to be a sommelier, which in his own words, is not a profession with many black people.  However, he follows his own heart and love of wine to try to make his dream a reality.  The dialogue between characters--especially by the women--was a treat.  A lot of the writing was very natural and had undertones of humor, with hints of balanced notes of comedy and drama.  The acting is also quite strong, with very good, moving performances by Niecy Nash and Courtney B Vance.  Mamoudou Athie is likewise fantastic; he embraced his character and definitely portrayed a young man who was torn between his duty to his family and his desire to follow his dreams.  Matt McGorry was also enjoyable to see in this film being that smart snarky character he does best, however his character had some odd antics that seemed unnatural and out of place in this film.  Additionally, the movie highlights the city of Memphis through its culture with its food, music, dance, art and soul. 

This movie has a lot going for it, with a strong base and great characters.  However, after the initial taste, it loses a little in the body.  For starters, the movie doesn't really explore why Elijah got so passionate about wine.  It is mentioned, but I would really love to have more in the story about this.  The middle part of the movie was interesting, but it also didn't explore enough of Elijah's character development, especially during an important class trip.  The ending also left a bitter taste in your mouth; it was not bad, just a little unfulfilling.  On a related note, as much as I loved Elijah's character, he seemed to go back and forth between his desires.  It highlighted his conflict, but he also seemed to go all in for various directions at different times, which left for a slightly disjointed character.  All of this leaves a film that highlights how important it is to pursue your dreams, but doesn't allow the viewers to feel that connected to the process.  

Uncorked is a strong, full-bodied movie, with hints of great characters, wonderful strong portrayals of a black family in Memphis, and charm and humor.  

Rent it

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