Uncorked is a film about Elijah who is torn between his dream to become a master sommelier and his father's wish for him to take over the family's barbecue restaurant as they prepare to open a second location. The film stars Mamoudou Athie, Courtney B. Vance, Niecy Nash, Sasha Compere, Matt McGorry, Gil Ozeri, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, and Matthew Glave. It is written and directed by Prentice Penny. The film is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
I loved this movie. There's much about it that could have bothered me, but the execution was so well done that it didn't matter. The story arc is uncomplicated, but it never falls into the deep melodramatic shout fests of stories like it. These characters carry the weight of their emotions inside, the complicated nature of father and son is especially pointed when the words go unsaid for so long. There's an excellent split screen scene that highlights this relationship where Louis, Elijah's father, answers Sylvia's, Elijah's mother's, phone for her and Elijah's not expecting it. Louis stands and looks out to his right, then Elijah on the other side stands and looks out to his left. Their backs are to one another even across continents and an ocean as they are at odds on the future.
Prentice Penny and editor Sandra Montiel have crafted a couple of scenes that really elevate this story beyond its premise. The opening of Louis getting to the restaurant in the dark at four in the morning to stoke the fires, to cut the meat and cook it to perfection intercut with a vineyard in France as they pick the grapes, juice them, blend them, and bottle the wine. I have an affinity for craft in all its forms, so this scene is how I got immediately invested in this plot and these characters.
The other scene that just hooked me was as Elijah tries in vain to study his craft as he grieves a tremendous loss. We watch him go through his checklist and as he adds an element he sees a flash. Then he adds elements and sees other flashes. When we catch the look on his face it's utterly heartbreaking as he tries to get himself together for his study group, but we all know what it means now. There are no words to ruin the moment. We know he's going to give it up.
That is what I love about Penny's script. He has an understanding and economy of words. Characters only say what they need to and they speak plainly for what they want. We can also see the meaning behind those words and the trouble it can get the characters in for what they're not saying to the one who needs to hear from them. Though, what good would a script be without great actors to back it up.
Courtney B. Vance is always a presence of power and confidence. He exudes a smooth competence like no other actor. Mamoudou Athie is growing into someone to keep an eye on as he continues to get more and challenging work for himself. Yet, the MVP has to be Niecy Nash. She is so good as the matron of this family. She keeps the peace and holds court. Nash's recent turns at dramatic work have been stellar and her half comic, half dramatic role here is pitch perfect.
It's the little touches that make Uncorked an exceptional experience. One I haven't mentioned is that Penny and music supervisor Kier Lehman used local rappers for music in the scenes in Memphis and then took a turn when the story moves to Paris to find that French rap sound. It's little touches that make a film remarkable and Uncorked is a remarkable and fabulous debut by writer/director Prentice Penny and I look forward to what he does next.