Uncorked, starring Niecy Nash, Courtney B. Vance and Mamoudou Athie, is a new entry into the Netflix Top 10. It’s a familiar story, but in new packaging.
The Top 10 feature on Netflix has been a welcome addition, especially with most of us stuck in the house these days practicing social distancing. If you’re looking to see what everyone else is watching, you’re likely making good use of the feature. One of Netflix’s new releases this weekend is Prentice Penny’s Uncorked and it has broken into the Top 10 films within its first 24 hours on the site.
Uncorked is a movie about the relationship between Mamoudou Athie’s (Unicorn Store) Elijah and his father Louis, played by Courtney B. Vance (American Crime Story). Louis runs a successful barbecue restaurant in Memphis that was handed down to him by his father and he plans to hand it down to Elijah. However, Elijah does not appear to be interested in taking over the stand and instead has a passion for wine. To be clear, he’s not an alcoholic, he wants to be a master sommelier.
Now if you’re like me, you don’t really know what a sommelier is, what they do, or how one would become a master at it but Uncorked does the job of answering that for you. The movie also does a good job of not making you feel like it isn’t for you because you don’t know. Uncorked does a lot of things right but creating characters that feel real and relatable, despite the unique subject matter is one of its biggest strengths.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Uncorked has to be the dialogue. While Elijah is mostly awkward (Mamadou’s specialty as an actor), the rest of the characters all feel familiar. While there are many scenes with Elijah and his wine aficionado buddies (including Matt McGorry of OITNB fame) talking over the audience’s head, those scenes are contained and balanced out with real-world conversation around family and expectations.
The majority of the film takes place with Elijah around his family. Again, his father runs a barbecue restaurant in Memphis so his people are regular people. Bernard Davis Jones (The Mayor) plays JT who appears to be a cousin and serves as comic relief. While conversations between Elijah and his family about his interests seem tense, JT is always there with a joke.
There are other family members who also serve to keep conversations light, familiar, and humorous. Elijah’s sister Brenda, played by Kelly Jenrette (Jinn), can’t cook for example and there are jokes made at her expense on this topic. What could have been a very heavy movie was made much lighter by the humorous interjections. Not so much so that it took away from the movie but so that it felt real and wasn’t overwhelming.
Another strong point of Uncorked is the relationships. Niecy Nash (When they see Us) plays Elijah’s mother Sylvia. While nobody in the family is a wine enthusiast like Elijah is, you can see early on that she’s invested because her baby is and she wants to encourage him in his endeavors. The way she does so isn’t always perfect but you can see the effort is there. That’s a real mother-son relationship. Sylvia is mostly trying to be the bridge that keeps her husband and her son together. It’s a source of tension between Sylvia and Louis and Niecy’s role was key throughout most of the movie in keeping the family together.
The father is upset that Elijah doesn’t appear to want to take over the business so he ignores him when he talks about the thing he is passionate about. You could say that Louis is doing his best not to lash out but it’s clear that his approach is not helpful for either of them. Father-son relationships are always tough, that’s the part of the story that is very familiar. In this case, both men struggle to show emotion and almost every attempt to do so is approached with hesitation and immediately turns into an offering of food to help and that brings me to the third point.
As a person who is pursuing a career in a field that no one in my family has pursued, I understood Elijah’s issues. He knows he doesn’t want to just accept fate and take over the family business but, as is mentioned in the movie several times, he doesn’t exactly know what he wants to do. He has pursued other areas of passion in the past and not followed through on them.
Because of the combination of disappointment that he doesn’t want to take over the restaurant, and the fact that his son has switched career paths before, Louis doesn’t take his son seriously. This also affects Elijah’s confidence in pursuing his passions. He’s already stepping out on faith into an area that many feel he doesn’t belong in, but then when your support base isn’t strong it’s easy for doubt to seep in as soon as soon as you hit a rough patch.
Come for the humor, stay for the relatability.
I would be remiss not to point out the few things that might be off-putting for some. For one, the music early on can be a bit heavy-handed at times. Mostly due to the lyrics. I did enjoy juxtaposing wine culture with trap music but some of the lyrics are likely going to be a bit too much for some viewers. Elijah’s romance with Tanya, played by Sasha Compere (Miracle Workers), is not as fleshed out as I would have liked either. She mostly serves as a support vehicle for him and we don’t get enough reciprocation from him.
However, taking Uncorked for what it is, you have a film with a lot of heart and solid performances all the way around. A welcome addition to any watch list.