Brief synopsis: A son becomes estranged from his father when he decides to follow his dream of becoming a sommelier. When he takes a trip of a lifetime to study the craft in France, things after complicated further by his mother becoming gravely ill and financial difficulties.
Is it any good?: Uncorked is a film with heart that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt disappointment from their family. With wonderfully understated performances from the whole cast and particularly strong central performances from Courtney B. Vance, Niecy Nash and Mamoudou Athie, Uncorked is an enjoyable family film.
Spoiler territory: Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) has dreams of becoming a sommelier but his father, Louis (Courtney B. Vance) wants him to inherit the family restaurant business in and tells him so. As well as working in the restaurant, Elijah works in a wine shop. One evening, he meets Tanya (Sasha Compére), who has popped into the wine shop for a bottle of white wine.
Elijah asks her what sort of white wine she would like. Tanya does not know anything about wine. Elijah explains to her the various types of wine using hip hop music artist as a substitute for the various wines. Having helped Tanya with her wine purchase, Elijah notices he is late for his shift at the restaurant and rushes to his shift.
At the restaurant, Louis gives his son a hard time. Elijah gives back as good as he gets until both are interrupted by Dorothy (Niecy Nash), wife and mother respectively, tells the men to stop arguing. She gets back to serving people in the restaurant. She is interrupted by her daughter, Brenda (Kelly Jenrette), and her children.
She takes her grandchildren into the back to get something to eat. Elijah teases Brenda about being unable to cook even though she grew up in a restaurant. Their cousin, JT (Bernard David Jones), comes into the restaurant looking to impress his latest lady. Louis takes Elijah with him on a wood run.
On the trip, he asks him to come on a buying trip with him the next day. Elijah tells him he cannot because he has a wine fair. Louis points out to him that he always seems to have a wine class or show whenever he is required to learn about the restaurant, Louis reminds him, that he will one day inherit. Elijah does not say anything.
Elijah attends the wine fair and enthusiastically tells Raylan (Matthew Glave), the owner of a wine store, friend and wine connoisseur and sommelier. Elijah asks him about wine school. Raylan tells him it is difficult and he took the test three times.
Tanya comes back to the store. Even though Elijah geeks out about corks, Tanya ends up making sure he takes her number. Elijah goes to a family dinner. At the dinner, Elijah mentions how he was at a wine show and found about becoming a sommelier. Most of the family have no idea what he is talking about.
Elijah tells them what a sommelier and says that Raylan has offered to write a letter of recommendation to the school. Louis embarrasses his son but questioning his commitment to following through on his latest passion. Later, when Louis and Sylvia are alone, she tells him he was wrong for saying that in front of everybody.
Tanya and Elijah go out on a date. He talks to her about how difficult his situation is regarding wine school and his family. Tanya tells him that if he really wants it, he has to go for it. Elijah takes the exam to get into sommelier school and he passes.
Elijah goes to see his father at the restaurant. He finds out they are opening a second restaurant. He wants Elijah to run one of the premises. Elijah tells him he does not want to take over the family business and that he got into sommelier school. Louis is disappointed but tells him it is his decision what to do with his life.
Elijah studies diligently. Richie (Gil Ozeri), who he met at wine school, studies along with him. The next day at school, after showing his talent with wine whilst up against another student, Harvard (Matt McGorry), Harvard catches up with him after the class and asks him to join a study group.
Father and son become estranged, with Louis pointedly reticent with Elijah. Elijah asks to swap a shift but Louis reminds him that he promised that his wine school would not disrupt his work at the restaurant. Louis and Sylvia go out for a night of dancing but are alerted to an alarm going off in the restaurant. It is Elijah and Tanya cleaning up. Elijah forgot to reset the alarm. He tells Louis he is just making sure he gets all the work done.
Elijah is studying with Richie, Harvard and the fourth member of their group, Leann (Meera Rohit Kumbhani). Harvard gets a text. He tells the group that their class is doing an exchange program with a French school. Elijah says he cannot afford it. Harvard says he will go in for half if he can come up with the money.
Elijah cannot see how he can raise the money. Tanya tells him he has to go but he snaps at her, feeling he cannot find the money. He apologises later. At another family dinner, Louis refuses to talk about wine as the rest of the family awkwardly try to show interest in Elijah’s passion. Elijah decides that he is going to France. He tells the family and says he is going to sell his car finance it. Sylvia immediately takes up his cause pledging to raise the rest of the money for his trip.
Sylvia gets family and friends together and raises the money to get Elijah out to France. Louis remains distant. The group go to Paris and enjoy the experience as they settle in. Back in the States, Sylvia has seen a doctor. Her cancer has come back and spread to her lungs. Sylvia tells Louis and returns to the hospital. She does not want Elijah to know.
Elijah and the group continue to enjoy Paris. Harvard wants to speak with Elijah privately. He tells him he is returning to the States. His father has gotten him banking job starting the next week. Elijah stays on, finding work in France. He calls home and has an awkward conversation with his father. Louis is convinced he wants money.
Brenda tells Elijah about their mother. He calls her. Sylvia tells him not to come home as he cannot do anything. He stays on in Paris but his attention is now divided. Louis gets a call from the bank about a credit transfer. Sylvia tells him she transferred the money to Elijah. Sylvia tries to explain to Louis that their son does not want the same thing that he does.
Sylvia dies and Elijah returns home for the funeral. A grieving Elijah tries to keep studying. He goes back to working with his father, trying to help out more now that Sylvia is dead. He finds out that Louis had wanted to be a teacher but his father had needed help in the restaurant. Elijah is still studying but is considering dropping out of school to help his father.
He drops out of school. Tanya comes to see him and asks why he had not told her. She tries to persuade to go back but he does not want to discuss it. Louis and Elijah go for a drink at a sports bar. Louis sees, firsthand, Elijah’s passion for wines. He persuades him to study for the test, helping out whilst they both work on the new restaurant.
The day of the test Elijah is nervous. He takes the test but has to wait overnight for the results. Louis comes to stay with him in the hotel room. The next day Elijah finds out he did not pass. Louis takes him home. He returns to working in the wine store, his passion for wine undiminished. He and Tanya go out to dinner and Richie, who passed, is their sommelier. Elijah re-enrols to wine school. The end.
Uncorked is an enjoyable, heartfelt, family dramedy. With good performances from all of the assembled cast, as well as great chemistry amongst all of them. Written and directed by Prentice Penny, Uncorked takes an unusual passion – wine, being a sommelier – and makes it mainstream and accessible in the way Damien Chazelle made drumming accessible with Whiplash.
Athie is perfectly believable as the passionate Elijah. Veteran actor Vance is also good in a slightly cliched role of the father disapproving of his son, his heir’s, choices. Nash’s Sylvia is both witty and motherly, showing love and compassion to all even as she succumbs to the ravages of cancer.
If there are any wasted characters, I would probably say Jenrette’s Brenda seems to only be in the film to fill out the family numbers, with even Jones’ cousin JT adding more to proceedings than she does.
Compére’s Tanya, a really good character, is also underused, a pity because the chemistry between the actors was so good and her performance deserved more screen time. At one hundred and four minutes, Uncorked stays just under two hours and the likeable performances keep it from feeling long.
That being said, the story could probably have been told in ninety minutes, the sweet spot for a home watched movie I think. Aside from those minor gripes, Uncorked is a highly watchable film that just falls short of being a total feel-good film. Worth a look.