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In Uncorked, an undemanding new Netflix drama, a young man finds himself trapped between his desire to be a sommelier and his father’s wish to have him take over the family barbecue business. It’s a battle between the old and the new and a similar war rages on behind the camera as Insecure writer-producer Prentice Penny, here making his directorial debut, goes through familiar motions while also trying to bring something fresh to a tried-and-tested formula, a challenge he’s not quite up to, the result falling somewhere in the middle … of the road.
Mamoudou Athie, best known for small roles in The Front Runner, The Get Down and Sorry for Your Loss, graduates here to his first lead as Elijah, a man working two jobs in Memphis: serving at his family’s popular BBQ joint and selling at a local wine store. His father (Courtney B Vance) intends for him to take over the business but Elijah’s growing interest in wine has given him other ideas and with the cautious support of his mother (Niecy Nash), he embarks on a quest to become a master sommelier, even if it means problems at home.
Uncorked is indicative of the sort of film that Netflix now overflows with: adequate, mid-tempo product that’s hard to hate but even harder to love, a background watch that only sometimes threatens to break through to the foreground. There’s clear talent involved, from Penny who, over at HBO, helped Issa Rae to carve out one of the smartest and funniest comedies of recent years, to hardened, can-take-anything-on character actors like Vance and Nash, but there’s not enough special sauce here to make it linger, it’s a palate cleanser at best.
It’s the age-old tale of the child who doesn’t want to inherit the family business because he has a passion of his own and with these two competing worlds being food and drink, one would expect at the very least to salivate at what’s placed on screen. But despite Penny stuffing his script with terminology, he struggles to make either side truly come alive. The film is in need of both a stronger motivating force and a cannier visual technique that might help us understand and appreciate Elijah’s immersion in wine culture. We see copious glasses of it but we’re never lured into reaching for one of our own at a time when we’re not in short supply of reasons to drink. There’s an aesthetic missing and given the territory, it’s a film that desperately needs one.
So much of the film doesn’t feel fleshed out enough, most notably a thin romantic subplot with a character who only exists to ask Elijah questions that advance the narrative. There’s a bit more depth back at home with Elijah’s family but a great deal of that is the result of Vance and Nash, who do a lot with very little, both able to force their vaguely etched characters to life with precious little help from Penny. Nash in particular is so vibrant that one wishes the film was centred around her instead and she tries hard to add poignancy to her arc, delivering perhaps the film’s most human moments. Athie is a likable lead but Elijah is such an underwritten enigma that it becomes hard for him to corral us into caring about his journey, one that’s never quite as involving as it should be, every conflict easily resolved.
It’s all just so passable, a film that does enough to warrant a lazy afternoon watch but not enough to stick around in our memory for any longer. The formula is so well-trodden that it needed a sparkling jolt of energy to justify Penny traipsing his way through it again. Uncorked isn’t exactly corked but it’s definitely flat.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Uncorked review – sub-par Netflix wine drama is far from vintage | Drama films