When we look at a bottle of wine, what do we see? For most people, it is just a glass bottle with a red or white alcoholic beverage inside. We may like the taste, but we don’t know much about what makes this drink what it is.
In Netflix’s “Uncorked,” when naive wine Tanya (Sasha Compére) is looking for the “right” bottle, wine lover Elijah (Mamoudzou Athie) takes the opportunity to explain their differences in terms she may understand. Chardonnay as Jay-Z. Pinot Grigio as Kanye. Riesling as Drake. These analogies give the types of wine new meaning to Tanya and to an audience that may not know much about this grape-derived drink.
Elijah is a young man who works at his father’s (Courtney B. Vance) BBQ restaurant in Memphis. Much to his father’s chagrin, Elijah also works at a wine shop on the side. This young man harbors such love for wine; he wishes to become a master sommelier, a wine steward. But this dream seems just that. The plan is for Elijah to take over the family business.
At the film’s core, the confrontations may seem familiar. Father versus son. Expectations versus desires. The old versus the young. But even with the underbelly of familiarity, there are surprises. At every turn in “Uncorked,” writer and director Prentice Penny makes bold choices. His characters are continually placed in situations that require follow-through, acceptance, and resilience. It is a rarity to have a film so deeply rooted in determination, especially one revolving around school and study.
The cast is all talent. Emmy winners Vance (FX’s “The People vs. OJ Simpson”) and Niecy Nash (Netflix’s “When They See Us“) play Elijah’s hard-working parents. Vance lays on the disapproving father act pretty thick but manages to capitalize on a few precious moments of real connection with his son. The tensions between Elijah and his father are as palpable as the unconditional love between him and his mother. Nash’s character often finds herself in the middle of the two men, but her performance shows a mother’s love knows no bounds. “Uncorked” is anchored by relative newcomer Athie’s performance as Elijah. He has a rich voice and a commanding presence. Athie cannot help but capture the audiences’ attention and, ultimately, their encouragement. With each glass of wine, Elijah drinks and studies, we root for his success.
Besides a few jumpy edits, the film flows nicely through its arc. Penny also makes a winning attempt to capture life in Memphis for a working-class African-American family. Their struggles feel real, making their setbacks much more somber and their achievements much sweeter. “Uncorked” is filled with the comfort of family, friends, music, food, and wine. My advice- pop the cork, let it breathe, and take a sip.