Review: Savor ‘Uncorked’ on Netflix

While America pairs their daily COVID-19 watching with repeats of “Tiger King,” may we suggest the more sophisticated “Uncorked” on Netflix?

Veronika Lee, Editor in Chief & écrivaine

For anyone who has ever fought with their parents over the meaning of life. For anyone who has ever lost a parent. For a person who has had the courage to leave the town where they lived their entire childhood. For anyone who has chased several dreams before settling on just one.

“Uncorked” is a fascinating glimpse into American life and all the trappings that come with it.

Top billed cast include Niecy Nash (star of the New Orleans-filmed “Claws” and “Scream Queens”) and Emmy and Tony award-winning actor Courtney B. Vance, of “Law and Order SVU fame (also married to Angela Bassett to played New Orleans’ own Marie Laveau in “American Horror Story: Coven”). And while Niecy and Mr. Vance do not disappoint as the middle American working class parents of the lead, it is Mamoudou Athie who plays Elijah, whose star shines the brightest.

Elijah (Athie) is the son of a BBQ restaurant owner in Memphis, Tenn. Born with the expectation that he will inherit the family business, he has toyed with notions of being a DJ and other various pursuits until the world of wine (yes, wine) catches his fancy.

American viewers may initially roll their eyes collectively at the culture surrounding wine, but Elijah explains to the audience, to his family, to his new girlfriend (the irresistibly charming Sasha Compère), that there is just something about wine that takes our lead out of his middle American life and transports him to the old worlds of Spain and France. He has been called to pursue the exclusive position of sommelier, even though most of his family and friends can’t even pronounce the word, let alone envision someone earning a living off distinguishing a chardonnay and a shiraz.

In the grander scheme of things, “Uncorked” speaks to the class system of the United States and what we do (or don’t) esteem as being a worthwhile pursuit. Elijah’s father is reluctant to support his son’s interest in the bougie world of fine wine while his mother, the cancer-stricken Sylvia, played by Niece, is unfailingly supportive. We see Elijah stress about the choice to go to Paris to study wine culture with strange white archetypes like a dude nicknamed “Harvard” who allegedly is an Ivy Leaguer with his own daddy disappointed in his career choices.

The casting by Victoria Thomas, CSA is flawless save for the mostly dispensable upper class white guys who are neither likable nor particularly endowed with the same acting chops as Mr. Athie. You have some real heavy hitters in this project and some actors are just flailing in comparison.

Our sister city Memphis shines in its own right, giving a glimpse into a rapidly gentrifying world and economy. The family barbecue business struggles to maintain hipness and to appeal to new people coming to the neighborhood. Over the past few years, Memphis, like New Orleans, has become a filmmaking hub and the locations in this film show off a city that’s so much more than a Graceland tour. The film also takes us to the streets of Paris and the music score provided by Hit-Boy is flawless.

As we see the world tightening down and the end of the Instagram venturers who stir up feelings of wanderlust capitalism, wine is a paved road to escapism. “Uncorked” certainly speaks to this. At times director Prentice Penny’s (“Insecure,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) drama drags and maybe some story arcs feel a little long. (We never really get an understanding of the relationship between Elijah and his girlfriend.) The film should be enjoyed like a fine wine – it’s a slow burn but the film speaks to what UNO student Alexis T. Reed referenced in her study abroad guest column (the main character in this film travels to Paris and encounters new perceptions of race). UNO student filmmaker KC Simms (“Do You Love Me?”) said earlier this year that African Americans in film and TV still suffer as a result of “tokenism” but “Uncorked” paints a broader picture here — speaking to the ways in which Americans live up to and struggle to defy familial legacies and class norms.