‘Uncorked’ TV Review: Courtney B. Vance & Niecy Nash Shine In Uninspired Family Drama
Netflix’s Uncorked attempts to be a touching father-son drama but falls short. The central story is nothing unique: a father, Louis, (Courtney B. Vance) wants his son (Mamadou Athie) to follow in his footsteps but his son has other dreams. Louis inherited the family barbecue restaurant from his father who established it years ago and he can’t seem to understand why Elijah doesn’t want to carry on their legacy even after Elijah explains that his ambition is to become a master sommelier repeatedly. Just so many times. The mother Sylvia (Niecy Nash) is the gentle-yet-tough force who tries to hold the family together as the boys battle it out. Intertwined somewhat smoothly in the family drama are disparities between race and class – along with studying the names, regions, textures and everything about wine for hours, Elijah also has to work to support himself going to wine school while his friend, known as “Harvard” for having attended the university, breezes by on his father’s money.
The movie, written and directed by Insecure’s Prentice Penny has all the right qualities to be a deeply moving story but fails as the plot and characters don’t feel fully fleshed out. There are too many half-baked stories: the father-son animosity, Elijah’s inertia, the family’s struggle with money, Elijah’s tough classes and exams, and a harrowing family tragedy which doesn’t have the emotional effect that it should.
It’s hard to place who exactly each character is and it’s difficult to try to make myself care about them. Louis seems to care only about the legacy of his joint but the conversation between father and son becomes repetitive as the same unproductive back and forth happens throughout the first hour of the movie. Sylvia seems perfectly content in the role of a peacemaker despite her inability to get father and son to get along. Even so, Vance and Nash are the saving graces of the movie, despite neither Penny’s screenplay nor his direction aiding them in any way. They bring a certain parental sternness and warmth to the movie which is pretty much the only believable part of it apart from a few family dinner scenes with siblings and cousins.
We’re told Elijah’s passionate about wine but apart from him stating this we never feel his excitement when his eyes recognize his favorite bottles or even when he sips them himself. It may be the script, but while Athie’s body is performing the motions, his expression, emotion, dialogue is hardly convincing. The character also doesn’t really struggle at all; he seems lazy as his father insinuates he’ll give up on his sommelier dreams like he has given up on others in the past and yet he quickly becomes extremely hardworking. He manages to secure enough money to go to Paris despite being poor. He challenges the egoistic top student in class not from competitiveness but from a desire to know more, to do better. He otherwise seems laidback and slightly arrogant but becomes quite the charmer when a customer Tanya (Sasha Compère) walks in and their awkward banter turns into a stable relationship surprisingly fast, although Compère’s only role is to be an annoyingly pushy plot device who appears on screen just to further Elijah’s story by incessantly telling him to further his dreams. A problem is introduced and suddenly it is solved. I don’t feel anything for Elijah when he faces significant hurdles in his journey because it doesn’t seem to affect him either. The only real problem comes towards the resolution which is actually the best part. In its last five minutes,Uncorked is incredibly inspirational.
My biggest criticism is that the film was shot in Paris, and yet there are no shots which make me wish I was there, posing next to the Eiffel tower in a berret. There is no sense that Elijah is elated that he’s in the marvelous European city either. In fact you wouldn’t even be able to tell that he was in Paris or that he was enjoying himself unless you were specifically told so. Why shoot there then?
The film struggles throughout to find its tone; it slightly humorous in parts, quirkily romantic once or twice and strangely sober the rest of the time. I’m left with the feeling that neither Penny nor any of the actors fully understood what they were trying to do.