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The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

CineHawk Review: “Uncorked”

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Written and directed by “Insecure” alum Prentice Penny, “Uncorked” is the heartwarming, yet cliche story of BBQ restaurant heir Elijah. Played by Mamoudou Athie, Elijah is a brilliant young man who is torn between continuing his family business and pursuing his true passion of becoming a sommelier (wine expert). 

Wisely, Penny opens this Netflix debut with a montage that perfectly illustrates this divide: an in-depth look into the processes behind both of these paths. While seeing Elijah’s father Louis, played by Courtney B. Vance, personally preparing for a hard day of work, there is a noticeable contrast. The scene emphasizes the smaller, more personal scale of the BBQ business while demonstrating how the wine preparation shows a vast, sophisticated world that Elijah ultimately wants to join.

Vance is well cast as Louis, even if this role is not the most unique. Though he can come across as overly preoccupied with his business, Louis does genuinely care for his family and he ultimately wants to make sure Elijah has a secure future rather than risk everything on a pipe dream.

Starring as Elijah is Athie’s debut as a leading man. He sells Elijah’s passion and genius in the study of wine while also keeping him relatable and grounded. Whenever Elijah gives his family, and by extension, the audience, a lecture on the features of a particular wine, Athie never seems out of depth and always seems like he knows exactly what he is talking about. 

However, Penny is smart in keeping Elijah from seeming so knowledgeable that he can steamroll all the obstacles to his dream. More than once, he is out of his depth academically and needs to work even harder to expand his knowledge base.

Anchoring the film emotionally is Elijah’s mother, Sylvia, played by Niecy Nash. While not exactly sharing her son’s particular passion, Sylvia is consistently in Elijah’s corner, supporting his dream, in stark contrast to her husband. Nash gives an upbeat, memorable performance that brings much needed heart and humor to the film, even as her character goes through her own struggles.

Perhaps the film’s weakest link is Elijah’s romance with the underdeveloped Tanya, played by Sasha Compère. While their interactions can have some charm, she is mostly there to serve as a plot device for his story, acting as a mouthpiece for the screenwriter to ask the questions of the plot in an easier, less interesting manner. 

The rest of the cast plays smaller parts in the overall events but do well with what they are given. Matt McGory, better known for “How to Get Away with Murder,” is Elijah’s wine rival-turned-friend, only known in the film by his alma mater, Harvard. 

McGory is skilled at portraying a spoiled brat as his character’s exterior, neatly contrasting him from the less privileged and more hardworking Elijah. However, the film hints at a more tormented and nuanced character the more time we spend with Harvard. He and Elijah share a similar enthusiasm for wine, and they both are burdened with their fathers’ unsupportiveness of their dreams. Had the film given more time to flesh out his character, Harvard may have made more of an impact on the viewer.

“Uncorked” is a deceptively captivating film, full of drama and humor that will please the palettes of wine enthusiasts and novices alike. But, it treads too much familiar ground for the story it tells, preventing it from being considered as anything above average. 

7 Hawks out of 10

“Uncorked” is currently available to stream on Netflix.

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