Review by Sean Boelman
The feature debut of writer-director Prentice Penny (who serves as executive producer on Issa Rae’s HBO show Insecure), Uncorked is an endearing new drama. Thanks to a compelling emotional arc and inspiring message, combined with a great lead performance, Penny’s film is an entertaining watch.
The movie follows a man as his aspirations of becoming a master sommelier begin to clash with his family’s expectations that he will continue the family business. Although there are plenty of films about someone from a tight-knit community wanting to break with his family expectations to go on their own path, this movie manages to stand out because of its unique premise.
Films about food are traditionally very interesting because everyone has a relationship of some sort with food, but Penny’s movie takes a very intriguing approach. Part of what makes the film so appealing is that it offers a look into the world of wine and sommeliers. While viewers won’t learn as much from watching this movie as they would a documentary on the topic, it’s fascinating nevertheless.
The character development in the film is also strong. Although the protagonist’s arc is a bit archetypal, it is very sympathetic nonetheless because it taps into the very common feeling of having dreams and aspirations that feel unreachable. A few of the emotional beats in the movie feel a little forced, but none of them are unearned.
Perhaps Penny’s greatest success in the film is that he is able to deliver an interesting exploration of the relationship between family obligations and personal desires. Penny’s perspective on these somewhat common themes is refreshing because it comes from a place of such honesty and reality.
Mamoudou Athie does an absolutely wonderful job in his leading role. When the movie has some comedic moments, he nails the timing, but he also has the excellent range for which the role calls. Courtney B. Vance and Niecy Nash are also both great as the protagonist’s parents, complementing Athie’s performance very well.
Of course, as is the case with many films about food, there are some absolutely gorgeous shots in the movie featuring food and wine. Even though this film doesn’t really lend itself to the expression of a unique visual style, Penny proves that he has a lot of talent behind the camera, and it will be interesting to see what he does with material that allows him to show more stylistic freedom.
Uncorked takes advantage of the interesting world in which it is set to provide a compelling and emotionally-driven story. With what’s happening in the world, a breezy and inspiring drama like this will likely gain plenty of traction.
Uncorked is now streaming on Netflix.