Bottle Shock
Her role may not be believable … but I believe in wanting her phone number.

Theatrical Release Date: 08/15/2008
Director: Randall Miller
Cast: Chris Pine, Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodríguez, Dennis Farina, Eliza Dushku

Millions of people were turned on to the wine craze via “Sideways”, where critics’ favorite curmudgeon, Paul Giamatti, eschewed his love of Pinot Noir and absolute hatred of Merlot. That film managed to be released (much like a fine wine) at just the right time in order to curry not only critical acclaim but modest box office success considering its independent nature.

Some wine lovers view that film with more than a hint of disdain for opening up what had been a hobby for only the rich and those in the know to the masses – where we can now all buy a decent bottle of wine from even the huge bulk discount chain stores.

I can thankfully say (because I’m a little bit of a snob) that I had begun my exploration of fermented grape juice before Sandra Oh poured wine on-screen in a little boutique winery in the Santa Ynez valley near Santa Barbara (Kalyra winery if you’re wondering … and it’s a good place to visit despite its connection to the film).

Still, I think exposing a larger audience to the world of wine, while removing some of the niche nature of the industry, means that more people will become interested in not only drinking wine – but making wine … and that’s a good thing overall. As an avid wine enthusiast, I find true beauty in the process of not only enjoying the tasty fruits of other’s labor … there’s inherent beauty in that very process as well.

With that in mind, it’s a little bit of a shame that the newly released “Bottle Shock” holds itself back from speaking about wine as if the audience knew what was going on and instead, spends too much time on the cliché father/son dynamic. Have I peaked too soon in this review?

Now, don’t go and instantly make up your mind here. There are good elements to the film and I think, if anything, people who haven’t yet become passionate about wine will enjoy the film far more that I did. I went into the theater hoping to learn more about the famous wine tasting competition between French and Californian wines in the 1970s that changed the landscape of wine culture so fundamentally, I was hoping to learn more about some of the finer points that go into making great wine, and I was hoping the script wouldn’t be so over-handed.

Everyone’s favorite Winnebago piloting space Prince, Bill Pullman, plays the owner of a small winery in the Napa Valley. Chris Pine plays his hippie son, far more interested in chasing tail than picking grapes. Would you believe that in the end, after much consternation and swallowing of pride, the two of them let bygones be bygones, make a great wine and reach a meaningful understanding and respect for one another? Weird, I don’t know how it could have happened. (Yes, that’s the smell of sarcasm) (Oh, is it?) (Shut up).

Added to the mix are Freddy Rodríguez who plays the knowledgeable son of a farmhand who dreams of making his own wine, Alan Rickman as the British wine snob who put the wine tasting competition together and Rachael Taylor is a wine whore (in the film … I have no idea what she’s like in person, though I’d like to find out). Toss in Dennis Farina as the loveable ex-patriot who eggs Rickman on, along with Eliza Dushku as the deus ex machina bar owner/tender, and you have the makings of just the kind of film you’d expect to see on the festival circuit (like Sundance where this was shown) and in arthouse theaters across the nation (where you might find it now).

The scenery is pretty, as wine valleys tend to be (though I thought the swooping overhead view was used a bit too much). The acting is decent for the most part (I still can’t quite take Freddy Rodriguez seriously in big dramatic monologues ever since “Can’t Hardly Wait”). Nothing in the film is an epic fail and you’ll fall prey to much worse in theaters this month. However, nothing really stands out either and the word that kept sounding throughout my head as the film continued to flitter on the screen in front of me was ‘over-handed’ (okay, so it’s a compound word).

A softening of the edges around Pullman’s ridiculously prideful character along with a sharpening of the edges around the script (especially in reference to the free spirited love triangle that rumbles through the film like Sasquatch on a bender) would have tightened the film up and made a bigger believer out of me but that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

On a side note, the executive producer of the film spoke before the screening I attended and he mentioned that the film was being privately distributed. This means that it will be much harder to find this film but if you are so inclined, and want a peek into the world of wine (while still safe in the comfort of a movie cliché), then by all means go out and find “Bottle Shock”. I’ll go ahead and give it a 3 out of 5 because I appreciate what they were trying to do but don’t blame me if you find yourself rolling your eyes a few times at the seemingly endless parade of mishaps and pitfalls the characters must endure to get to the end credits. (Or at the number of parenthetical references I made in this review … this whole stream of consciousness thing is out of control!)