Friday, February 10, 2012

Bottle Shock

Movie Review : Bottle Shock
Director :  Randall Miller
Genre : Comedy / Drama
Starring : Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor
Released : 2008
My Rating : 7 out of 10

If you think the typical strategy of using an underdog story to make a feel-good movie has nothing new to offer, you need to watch Bottle Shock. Based on real life events, this time the underdogs are the Napa Valley vintners in 1976, competing against the mightily snobbish French.

Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) is a multilingual Brit, running a fledgling "Academy of Wine" in Paris. His neighboring shop-owner and what seems like his only customer, gives him an idea of a publicity stunt to revive his business. A blind wine tasting competition between the French and the "new world" wines. So he comes to Napa Valley in search of finding some competition, although he is very skeptical to say the least. A chance encounter introduces him to Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman). His winery is also struggling, and he too is very skeptical of this snobbish gentleman - fearing that the competition won't be fair. Helping Jim in his wine-making, is his son Bo Barrett (Chris Pine), a new intern Sam (Rachael Taylor) and a Mexican immigrant Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez).

It's a fictionalized account of what happened then between all these characters and how the competition was won by Napa Valley. In spite of the little publicity the competition received at the time, it put California on the wine map, squarely competing against the myth of the French wine. Lot of success depends on marketing and hype, especially in Wine industry, and this was the trigger that lit the fuse.

It's such an enjoyable movie that it's easy to forgive its flaws. It totally fails as a love triangle, mainly because Sam's character is so ill-developed. The commentary on racism feels very out of place because it doesn't add anything to the story. But the dramatization of the events leading to the competition is lot of fun, and makes the whole package stand out. The tone is always light, and goodhearted. The acting is just OK, except Alan Rickman,  and if I have to use typical wine lingo, adds a bright acidity to an otherwise mellow round bodied fruitiness :-)

I have to mention a couple of spoilers, so forgive me. When Jim asks, "Why don't I like you ?", Spurrier responds, "Because you think I am an ass... I am not, it's just that I am British, and well, you are not". So when Spurrier pays him for tasting, Jim asks his son Bo to take Spurrier on a wine tour. All vintners are surprised - "He wants to pay for tasting ?", and are happy to oblige. Oh, what times ! Today, tasting brings in a sizable revenue to Napa Valley. Good for our economy, but I still wish Spurrier hadn't started this damn tradition.

Whether you like wine or not, I definitely recommend this movie. A note : this is nothing like Sideways, which was a much better movie because wine was a backdrop, with focus on characters. Here, wine competition is the story, and people are just a sideshow. It's not for the kids, but it is much safer than Sideways.

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