by Tony Dayoub
Bottle Shock could be that little-film-that-could that appears sometime after blockbuster season every year. You know which one. The one that may not open at #1 in the weekend box office tallies, but hangs out in the top ten for 6-8 weeks. Last year it was Juno. The year before... was it Little Miss Sunshine? Slowly building word of mouth, these critical successes snowball into popular ones as well. We shouldn't expect this one to be the year's Juno (heck, I didn't even expect Juno to be that year's Juno), and win any Oscars. But its quiet, amusing, engaging story is a welcome break from the summer bombast that currently populates the multiplex.
Based on a true story, the film follows Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a wine expert, if not an outright wine snob, as he organizes a wine tasting. It is 1976, however, and the French still have the corner on the wine market. So challenged by his his friend, Maurice (Dennis Farina), an American expatriate, Spurrier decides to make it interesting by having the French wines compete with wines from the emerging Napa Valley market. Visiting California to decide whether the local wines are up to the task, he meets local vintner, Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), and his "hippie" son, Bo (Chris Pine). Since this actually took place, I won't be revealing much by saying that it is their Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won over the French wines in a BLIND tasting.
The down-to-earth California vintners are contrasted with the elitist French wine establishment often. Rickman, in particular, is very funny delineating the upper-crust sensibility that Spurrier aspires to, while poking fun at the character, who incrementally learns to appreciate the local flavor of the underdogs. Spurrier's mixed feelings about his part in bringing down the establishment are captured perfectly in a silent scene where he pauses to pull out a map while lost in Napa. Sitting on his front seat is a bucket of KFC he just bought. He opens it and grabs a bite. While initially turned off at the crude flavor, he nonetheless is attracted to the fast food, and a look of fascination spreads over his face.
Otherwise of note is Chris Pine as Bo, a slacker justifying his laziness by indulging in a retro lifestyle. His part is pivotal in the film, first playing the underachieving male bimbo, then shining as the son trying to save his father's business. Sympathetic, funny, and persuasively entertaining, this actor is one to keep an eye on. His boyish good looks, and charming swagger will probably be used to greater effect next year, when he plays the young James Kirk in May's Star Trek reboot.
Another reason to see this movie is the beautiful Napa Valley scenery. Sometimes the camerawork gets a little overindulgent in capturing it, hampering the beauty of a setting that needs no assistance to stand out. But one still feels seduced by the possibility of travelling there to enjoy the wine-making firsthand.
This is a great date movie to see on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Bottle Shock opens on August 6th in theaters across the country.