Review: Uncorked (2020)

Uncorked. Directed by Prentice Penny. Netflix, 2020.

Premiere Impressions

            You know what is a great way to spend your time during self-isolation? Watching Netflix for hours on end. Though you might be tempted to watch your favorite sitcom you’ve already seen thirty times, or to watch the subject of the trendiest pop culture discussions on social media, this is a great time to watch some smaller-scale content for adults. While I will circle back next week to review something of a mini phenomenon (it rhymes with “Miger Ling”), I wanted to a look at a new release that might fly under the radar. If you’re interested in adult family dramas, definitely watch Uncorked, now streaming on Netflix.

            The film stars Mamoudou Athie as Elijah, a man struggling to manage the expectations of his family with his own passion for sommeliering. (Wait, uh, sommeliery? Sommeliology? Dude likes wine.) His father, Louis, played perfectly with reserved frustration by Courtney B. Vance, wants Elijah to learn the family business and run his barbecue stand. Elijah’s mother, played by True Queen™ Niecy Nash, rests in the middle of this tension. We do get a variety of other family members in the supporting cast, as well, but the narrative really rests on the interactions between these three characters.

            Though the premise might seem a tad too familiar, the script does make a couple of choices that upset the traditional pace of the “son wants something different from the father” script. Usually, in these films, we wait until somewhere in the second or third act for the son to make their declaration of wanting something different, and we wait until the climax or resolution for the father to come around. Uncorked plays out differently. In the first act, Louis shows Elijah the wine bar he had built into their forthcoming second location, a gesture of compromise. Elijah not only turns down the wine bar, but also lets his dad know he has no intention of running the restaurant in his future. With this big moment happening so early in the film, Uncorked has far more time to explore the deeper levels of the relationship between father and son, beyond just a difference in passion.

            At its core, Louis and Elijah’s conflict is more about the tension between generations than just the patriarch’s expectations. Louis is connected to the culture of his Memphis neighborhood. He rejects gentrification, he references the cultural challenges faced by black Americans, and he respects tradition. For Louis, the barbecue joint represents honor and family. For Elijah, the restaurant is a weight that prevents him from finding his own happiness and exploring his interests. The film does an excellent job of providing no easy resolution for this conflict. As the film continues, Louis does not suddenly recognize his son’s passion for wine and now is his number one fan—this is the point that I realize most of these kinds of films are sports dramas. However, an unexpected tragedy brings them closer together, and they begin to understand each other more.

            Like every movie or show she’s in, Niecy Nash is the standout here. Nash brings her stellar comedic timing to the role, which also, subtly, allows her to display her true range as an actress (seriously, if you haven’t seen her performance in Claws yet, you’re just bad at living). She may not play as large of a role as the leading men, but her character, Sylvia, is the heart of the film. Sylvia needs to support her son’s dreams while supporting the values of her husband. She represents the balance between tradition and passion that neither her son nor her husband can comprehend. Though the film rushes through some of the most important parts of Sylvia’s arc, her impact on the film still lingers after the credits roll.

            Of course, there is a romantic subplot, but the film understands that the focus here is on the family. Elijah’s relationship with Tanya (Sasha Compère) adds a layer of the family structure without distracting from the narrative. When they fight, there are no melodramatic break-ups. They argue, like couples do, and go back to supporting one another. Their relationship is actually quite refreshing to watch, especially in the scenes where it intersects with the family dynamic. Without a doubt, the best scenes from the film are during the family dinners. Each one captures the spirit of familial love with just the right mixture of humor, heart, and tension.

Post-Screening Snippets

  • Any movie with a roller rink scene gets three bonus points, especially if there is roller-twerking.
  • Who knew that French rap slapped so hard?! I mean, other than the French, I guess.
  • Any movie with multiple Beyoncé references gets three bonus points.
  • In no way did the movie suddenly make me more interested in the art of wine, but it definitely did not make it seem as boring as it really is.

The Final Tea

            Uncorked may not be the most original of films, but it does enough with its familiar narrative that it deserves your attention. You should swirl, sniff, and sip it (please don’t unsubscribe, I had to throw in a wine pun).

GRADE: B+

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