Bottle Shock

Many films attempt to convey the passion, craftsmanship, and heart that are poured into the given trade or pursuit they portray but few truly succeed in transferring that passion to a debutant audience as deftly as Bottle Shock. I'm no wine buff and I'll be first to admit that I was forced to use the phone a friend life line at the liquor store in order to find a decent wine to compliment the film (I went with a Yellow Tail 2007 Chardonnay), but I was well and truly caught up in the passion of winemaking by the poignant, human, and ultimately whimsical portrayals of the founding fathers of the California wineries that transformed the industry from being centered on a single country to a truly global affair.

To shed a bit of perspective on the film and the central tasting that occurred in 1976 one need only stop by their local liquor store and take in the multiplicity of countries producing top quality wine, something that until now I took for granted. Being born most of a decade after the tasting depicted in Bottle Shock I grew up with wine enthusiast parents who as far back as I can remember have been drinking wines across four continents. I even grew up with the Nappa (and Sonoma) Valley as a house hold name, but had no idea until watching Bottle Shock that it was scarcely five years after the historic tasting that my parents travelled down to California on their honeymoon. Thus, I could end the review by simply stating that the importance of the events portrayed justify a viewing all on it's own but that would be selling the film itself extremely short.

Beyond just being a story about wine, Bottle Shock (as a video release) enters the canon of American filmmaking at an almost unprecedented time of penitence and self mortification largely brought on by the lingering ghosts of the Bush administration, and is thus a welcome breath of fresh air of what might as well be called the American equivalent of the Arthurian spirit, evoking that which is greatest about Americans; the entrepreneurial drive and almost need to take the role of the scrappy underdog challenging the established elite (see Hidalgo, The Last Samurai, Rocky, etc). It isn't a post imperial expression of American hegemony but the human and affecting tale of an uncompromising quest for legitimacy, for vindication.

What really marks Bottle Shock as being an important film in it's own right irrespective of the historical and cultural impact is that it has a heart a mile wide and a vulnerability of spirit that denies it any kind of ribcage of post modern ironic distance or Hollywood bravado. Shades of Waiting for Guffman are especially present in the unlikely, ungainly characters who make up the California wine growers vying for the attention of Alan Rickman's visiting wine guru, but the script never compromises them for a cheap laugh and instead uses stunning silent moments of dense visual texture to vindicate them through the literal fruits of their labour, most brilliantly portrayed in a quiet, subtle sequence in which Rickman's character tastes guacamole for what one is lead to believe is the first time of his life.

Rickman functions as a clever and effective foil for the eccentric but human and richly compelling performances by Chris Pine and Bill Pullman who play the real life father son wine growing team at the heart of the narrative. Pine's charm and swagger are transcendent in his breakthrough role (which he followed up with by leading JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot as the legendary James T Kirk), balanced by Pullman's rumpled cynicism. Their dynamic, however bizarre it gets, (specifically their penchant for stepping into an outdoor boxing ring set up in the middle of the vinyard to face off against each other whenever tempers flare) is tempered by layered, organic performances that drive the core of the film and do most of the legwork in giving the viewer a reason to invest in their world and rise to fame from obscurity.

In short, Bottle Shock is a contemporary classic of American film that is unmissable for a multiplicity of reasons, but most of all because it moves beyond the cliches of so called indie cinema to return to a form that is as compelling as it is entertaining.


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