Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) dreams of being a Sommelier while working part-time at a local Memphis wine shop. His enthusiasm for wine, and his ability to break them down for the customer in understandable ways, such as when he compares Chardonnay to the Jay-Z of wines, is evident to his customers; but not so much to his family who owns a popular barbeque restaurant. In the eyes of his father Louis (Courtney B. Vance) this is merely another one of Elijah passing fads. A distraction to keep Elijah from taking over the family business like Louis has been grooming him to do.
This divide between charting one’s own course and following the path that others have set before us is at the core of Prentice Penny’s Uncorked. Penny’s film may tell a familiar tale but, much like the various bottles of wine that Elijah studies, it is the nuances that make the film ripe for consumption. Penny’s script thrives because the characters feel authentic and relatable. Everything from Elijah’s self-doubt, and the way he is constantly seeks an excuse to not commit fully to something, to the loving dynamic between his father and his far more supportive mother, Sylvia (frequent scene-stealer Niecy Nash), rings true.
While the script does occasionally lend itself to a few obvious melodramatic moments, the strong performances by the ensemble cast make these sequences bearable. Athie brings wonderful layers to the role of Elijah. He displays a charisma and vulnerability that really shines in his scenes with the always illuminating Vance. They effectively show that Louis and Elijah are two sides of the same coin, but they are too blinded by their own desires to truly see each other.
It is through Elijah and Louis’ stubbornness that Penny effectively touches on the generational divide that shapes both men. Elijah is of an era where opportunity for success seems endless. It is a stark contrast to Louis who grew up in a time when it was nearly impossible for a black man to get a bank loan let alone own his own restaurant. While Elijah views the family business as a prison sentence, Louis sees it as a source of pride in the community.
The sense of community adds a rich texture to Uncorked. The cinematography by Elliot Davis captures in detail the various threads that gives the fabric of Memphis a deep communal feel. The same can be said for Elijah’s time spent in Paris. One can practically taste the delicately cut brisket and smell the aroma of the wine swirling in Elijah’s glass.
Like a fine glass of wine, Uncorked is a film that is worth savouring.