Wine connoisseurs have always fascinated me. I’m someone who loves wineries and those who understand wine better than I ever could, but don’t necessarily like it for myself. And yet, movies about wine always scratch a certain itch for me. The same goes for Netflix’s Uncorked, an enjoyable but not exactly full-bodied drama that stars one of the streamer’s recent discoveries, Mamoudou Athie.
Athie, who played Grandmaster Flash in The Get Down, then landed roles in Unicorn Store, The Front Runner, Patti Cake$, and more, delivers a soulful performance in Uncorked, a film that’s sweet and familiar like dessert wine from a box. He plays Elijah, who is torn between his passion to become a master sommelier (a wine steward), and his father Louis’ (Courtney B. Vance) desire for him to take over the family business, a Memphis BBQ joint passed down through generations.
Director Prentice Penny gets your mouth watering early, beautifully photographing the delicate preparations that go into perfectly-cooked ribs and a good vintage wine. The film contrasts these seemingly disparate cultures frequently, as Elijah bustles from high-class wine tastings to chop up meat for rib tips and brisket. The whole time, Louis turns up his nose at his son’s high-minded goals, while the boy’s cancer-stricken mother Sylvia (Niecy Nash) encourages him along. Penny finds commonality in the two worlds Elijah is trying to walk, which is where Uncorked truly matures. As a black man from a blue-collar upbringing, Elijah is seen as an outcast, not only from his peers but his own family who don’t understand what this wine thing is all about. One of the film’s great pleasures is in watching Elijah win some of them over, discussing wine over dinner and introducing them to a culture they had dismissed.
Complications for Elijah crop up, seemingly at random, and an important class trip to Paris is abrupt and flavorless. Supporting players, especially those in Elijah’s study group, have so little personality that we barely know their names, and yet they impact his journey in pretty big ways. Meanwhile, a relationship Elijah quickly forms with Tanya (Sasha Compère) relegates her to the background as an occasional voice of reason but little else.
It isn’t necessarily sophisticated the story Penny is telling with Uncorked, but this is a film that plays well on the palette even as it leaves you thirsty for something bolder.