30 Movies in 30 Days: Uncorked

Had I seen it before: No

Year: 2020

Director: Prentice Penny

Writer: Prentice Penny

Where you can stream it now: Netflix

What IMDb says: Elijah must balance his dream of becoming a master sommelier with his father’s expectations that he carry on the family’s Memphis BBQ joint.

Why I picked it: Not only have I been on the whole “watch more things from black filmmakers” bandwagon lately, but this movie is about barbecue and wine, two fantastic things. I love learning about all things food and drink and so I love the idea of a fictionalized version of my favorite kind of unscripted television. This movie has been calling my name since I saw first the trailer when the movie first came out.

What I liked: As a child raised on a steady diet of Disney Channel Original Movies, I am incredibly familiar with the “kid is passionate about X but parent wants them to do Y” formula for movie making. It’s really great to see a familiar concept from my youth updated for adults. The conflict is just as relatable as ever, but the film’s able to tackle more difficult facets of it with a more nuanced approach.

In a lot of ways, Uncorked is to Father’s Day what Lady Bird is to Mother’s Day, and I’d love to see Uncorked reach similar levels of popularity. Elijah and Louis love each other immensely, but are constantly struggling to balance that love with their separate visions for the future. Neither knows exactly how to put their love into words, but both are trying so damn hard. It’s this dynamic that elevates Uncorked above its Disney Channel counterparts, and it’s made even better by the fantastic performances by Mamoudou Athie and Courtney B. Vance. Even though both of these characters seem to be in constant opposition to each other, I love them both. I want them both to get what they want, which makes the moments where one has to make sacrifices for the other that much more heart wrenching.

I also just love how this film is able to draw parallels between two worlds that seem so opposite on the surface. Within five minutes I started thinking “Wow! The more I think about it, barbecue and wine actually have a lot in common. Sure one seems high brow, and one is more casual, but in both cases there’s so much variety among the different regions. The people who make either one put so much care and attention into every last detail. It requires true artisanship to perfect either one. I sure hope the film points that out!” I was not disappointed. I LOVE the moments where Elijah uses barbecue analogies to help explain wine to his family. Though to be fair, I can see how this might not matter as much to people who don’t love nerding out over foodie stuff.

I also think this movie was really good at taking fairly predictable storylines, getting to them quickly, and then moving past them. In the beginning, I was like “oh, I can see how this ends already. They open a new restaurant together where they serve barbecue but Elijah gets to run the wine program. Everyone lives happily ever after.” But what I thought would be the nice harmonious Disney Channel ending was actually presented much, much earlier. This meant that as we got into the middle of the movie I wasn’t very confident that I knew what would happen next, and the movie does in fact takes some twists and turns. The ending we get is ultimately satisfying if bittersweet, and feels real in a way that a straight forward happy ending never could.

I also don’t say this often, especially about Netflix films, but DAMN I want a sequel. They did such a great job of leaving this story in a place where it doesn’t NEED one, but they could easily continue this story without it feeling contrived. I just want to spend more time with these characters and I want to see what kinds of journeys lie in store for them.

What I didn’t like: I really thought they were going to do more with Elijah’s romance with Tanya. The movie starts with some romcom-esque flirting and I LOVED these two as both as a couple and as individual characters. Tanya was loving and supportive, but also strong and confident and she refused to put up with bullshit. But then in the back half of the movie she just kinda… fades into the background. We get the occasional “here’s how things are going” phonecall between her and Elijah, but we don’t really see him leaning on her the way he did at first even though he starts facing tougher and tougher challenges and presumably needs her support more than ever. We also sure as hell don’t see him providing the kind of moral support to her that one would typically expect from a boyfriend. It just feels like a bit of a waste given all the great work that was put into developing their relationship.

A disclaimer that is neither a like nor dislike: I went into this movie having seen all three Somm documentaries, which are all about the Master Sommelier test and wine in general (they’re also streaming on Hulu if you’re interested). I also once worked for a restaurant that had a rotating selection of hundreds of wines, and was once named one of OpenTable’s Top 100 restaurants in the United States for Wine Lovers. So I really can’t speak as to whether or not this movie broke down the world of wine and made it inviting and understandable to people unfamiliar with it.

Will I watch it again: Probably! It’s an around great movie and I can’t wait to introduce it to more people.

Who would enjoy it: Pretty much anyone, and especially people who like movies with a strong emphasis on family. Oh, and also foodies and wine people.

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