August 12, 2009
I've decided that one day, when I have a career and money, I am going to travel California's wine country for a couple of weeks. Drinking in the beautiful scenery--spitting out the wine samples--and who knows what else. It sounds like an ideal vacation to me. A friend of mine recommended the movie Bottle Shock, which I guess will have to suffice as a means of vicariously experiencing wine country. Along with Sideways, Bottle Shock is part of a distinct sub-genre of wine-lovers' movies. I was intrigued by Sideways for its eccentric fascination with wine, but turned off by the two douche bag characters in the movie. So I liked Bottle Shock much more because it offered the same eccentric love of viniculture and characters who were far more likable and just as human.
Chris Pine, who we all know from Star Trek, plays an aimless young man who works on his father's Napa vineyard. His dad (Bill Pullman) is tired, disappointed with himself for leaving a law firm to make his own wine, and facing insurmountable piles of debt. Meanwhile, a condescending British wine connoisseur (Alan Rickman) is facing problems of his own in France, where he runs a school for wine studies. Rickman reluctantly ventures to California's wine country, a term he acknowledges with not a little disdain, and tries to discern whether or not those unsophisticated Americans are actually making anything worth spitting into a tin cup after you sample it and describe the taste with phrases like "firm, robust, full of body, and a hint of tangerine." Essentially, it's Amadeus all over again, and Chris Pine is the delightfully mad genius to Rickman's taciturn, irretrievably jealous Salieri.
At first Bottle Shock appears a meandering tale of some folks who love wine. However, the more I got into the movie, I began to really enjoy its idiosyncratic subject matter. Combining Alan Rickman's tasteful Britishness and Chris Pine's whole "I thought showering was optional" persona is just eccentric enough to suit a movie which finds its roots in both French haute culture and 1970s Western Americana. Even Bill Pullman is good--and usually I find him to be somewhat subdued. Freddy Rodriguez co-stars as Pine's buddy, a natural-born vintner who's got his own dreams about making wine. Rodriguez is sort of the James Dean of the cast. He gets taunted with but never gets the glory or the girl.
I think my favorite scene was of Pullman popping a wine cork with a sword at his old law firm. I'm pretty sure Jesus turned water into wine with as much alacrity.
Directed by Randall Miller. With Dennis Farina, Rachael Taylor, Eliza Dushku. ★★★