In “Uncorked,” now streaming on Netflix, the father-son drama gets a refreshing upgrade. Elijah (Mamoudou Athie), a scattered but well-meaning young adult, has finally figured out his dream: to become a master sommelier, a designation reserved for the best wine stewards in the world. The only problem is that his father, Louis (Courtney B. Vance), wants him to focus on learning how to run their family’s barbecue joint in Memphis.
At first Elijah tries to do both. He prepares for the master exam, which is administered once a year, by enrolling in sommelier school while attending to his shifts at the barbecue spot. But that becomes increasingly challenging as his course — which he spent his entire savings on — demands more of his time, and his money. Eljah’s efforts are supported and encouraged by everyone except his father, who struggles to accept that his son can and wants to do his own thing. “I just hope … that you follow through,” Louis says at dinner when Elijah announces his intentions. “You get an idea about something but when it comes time to do it … ” The implications of the unfinished sentiment hang in the air and haunt Elijah for the rest of the film.
“Uncorked,” which is the feature directorial debut of the “Insecure” showrunner Prentice Penny, succeeds when it focuses on Elijah’s relationship with his family. In moments where they gather, the writing and cast shine in equal measure. “I went to a mixer about trying to become a sommelier,” Elijah says during one scene at the dinner table. “You trying to become an African?” his cousin, JT (Bernard David Jones) responds, confused. The characters tenderly volley for a bit before Elijah’s mother, Sylvia (Niecy Nash), calls for order. Away from the family unit, however, the film struggles a bit more. Elijah’s girlfriend, Tanya (Sasha Compere), remains so two-dimensional that her existence is more of a distraction; and a trip Elijah takes to Paris halfway through the film feels like little more than an obvious plot device.
Nonetheless, “Uncorked” joins a growing body of work — cinematic and otherwise — that upends stereotypes about black people around the world. Elijah and his father’s lives are not plagued by dramatic circumstances. Their problems with each other have to do with their opposing dreams, differing communication styles and the projecting that can happen between parent and child. And while the characters interact against the backdrop of varying degrees of racism and socioeconomic stressors, they are not defined by them. In other words, they are ordinary but no less noteworthy.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes.