Written by: Prentice Penny
Starring: Mamoudou Athie, Courtney B. Vance, Niecy Nash, Matt McGorry, Sasha Compère
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” gets utilized all of the time for people to justify following their dreams and what makes them happy. This quote needs to be used so often because it often conflicts with practicality and real opportunities presented. The young man followed in Uncorked takes on this personal battle as he strives to reach a profession his family cannot understand along with decides not to follow a passed-down tradition.
While working at the family-owned BBQ joint, Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) dreams of being a sommelier with his love for wine. While he drops everything to attend an academy for this profession, he must contend with the pressures of his father wanting him to take over the BBQ restaurant that has been passed down through the family.
The journey of becoming a sommelier comes as a two-pronged battle for Elijah as he needs to overcome the cultural clash of the upscale wine world and his roots. When trying to explain his passion to his family members, they cannot comprehend how he can have a passion for different wines when they see it as either red or white. It continually plays into the idea of this world of fine wine being out of reach for someone like Elijah and only for an uppity group of people. Then on the other hand he must contend with his father who does not even pretend to care for his passion and simply wants him to take over the restaurant. As much success as the restaurant has brought the family, he finds no real purpose in running it himself. It comes off as the classic trope of a father envisioning a dream for his entire family’s future and a son who wants to pursue something of his own. Nothing unique there, but this film does provide some education into the specificities of wine.
As Elijah studies to achieve his goal, he consumes plenty of wine of different variety and must name the specifics to it. The process begins with observing them, swirling, smelling, and consuming. Through the process, he needs to decipher certain characteristics like the year, flavor, country, region, and the name. As someone with a very basic understanding of this area, I cannot fathom the difficulty of doing this especially in the effort of just memorizing all of these regions from different nations. Elijah does find the passion in it and he certainly has a skill and seeks to become a master sommelier in the process. If anything, the film teaches small things about appreciating wine including reading the label to discern the important information or you can just get wine in a bag, your choice.
With each location the story takes place, the soundtrack serves as a strong backdrop to make the audience acclimate to the setting. It changes from the hip-hop of his local city to when he gets the opportunity to go to Paris, as it switches to Parisian rap. This method sets the foundation but the footage taken of these areas authentically shows the people inhabiting and how they shape their setting in a unique manner. It also helps that the song selection puts on some real bangers as well.
Through it all, the story proves to be one between a man and his father as they duel for what the future of the household will look like. It presents several instances of frustration where Elijah feels he cannot share his passion without immediate rejection from someone he has looked up to his whole life. On the other hand, the disappointment for the father can be recognized because of the pride he has developed for this restaurant and the amount of work he saw his own father put in to make it a reality. This restaurant represents the American dream for them and watching his son walk away from it for a profession he cannot fully comprehend can be disheartening. It all comes down to communication and compassion between them and several mitigating factors come into play in order to force them to confront their feelings about the future. I kept waiting for the “baseball is your dream dad” scene and it certainly arrived in a timely manner.
A difficult journey for Elijah but one where he’s willing to put it all on the line. Uncorked can be something used for purely educational purposes about what makes excellent wine and even take notes in the process. It definitely scared me thinking how much Elijah needs to spend on wine just for studying purposes, which explains how this would drain his bank account. In the end, he follows his passion and taking the leap of faith to achieve deserves recognition.