Lowdown: The story of the Napa Valley’s rise as a wine empire.
There are many films out there that aim to celebrate moments in recent history that seemed ordinary at first but turned out to have historical impact. To name but two recent examples, Milk does it for the gay movement while Frost/Nixon tells of Nixon’s final capitulation. Joining these ranks is Bottle Shock: the human story behind the rise of California’s Napa Valley to the world map of wine making as a direct result of the random collision between the private enterprises of a few good men (and the occasional sexy woman).
It all took place in the seventies. Alan Rickman’s character was an English wine seller living in Paris and not doing too well in business, so he comes up with an idea of having a blind wine tasting competition pitting French wines - the global standard for quality alcohol - against some unexpected opposition. He ventures to the Napa Valley to look for such.
There he travels in a rundown car and bumps along the paths of several struggling wine makers, all hard working and devoted and all searching for recognition for their efforts. Most notable of those wineries is the one headed by Bill Pullman’s character, with his fun loving but not too helpful son (Chris Pine of recent Star Trek fame) by his side. What follows are a collection of mini stories about the lives and struggles of those winemakers, their friends and their surroundings – all of which culminate at Rickman’s competition, said to have been the turning point for American wine’s international recognition.
Not much can go wrong with such an innocent story of lovable characters set in the Sideways setting I loved so much (to clarify, I adored Sideways, both the film and the setting). The problem is, the moviemakers seem to go out of their way to make a story out of what they have to play with here; thus, instead of having ourselves a tranquil film celebrating the beauty of the area we have a collection of cliché stories, none of which particularly good. Things narrow down to the struggle between father and son as well as a love triangle, and especially with the latter it’s all too predictable and of the “we’ve seen it a million times before” type.
Best scene: Rickman needs to take the American wine bottles with him on his flight to the Paris competition. He doesn’t want to check them in, fearing Bottle Shock (apparently, there is such a phenomenon – at least in the minds of wine aficionados). The airline, on the other hand, won’t let him carry them to the flight because of alcohol rules. What can he do? Every passenger in the check-in queue ends up carrying a bottle for him in a scene that cannot be replicated given today’s airport security hysteria syndrome.
Worst scene: Chris Pine and his father’s sexy intern (Rachel Taylor) attempt to hitchhike. No one stops for Pine, but when Taylor lifts her shirt things change… Haven’t we seen this one before, say, in Benny Hill?
Technical assessment: The picture on this DVD is pretty bad, as if someone did their best to remove details away. It’s just not fair on the scenery. The sound, however, is not bad with some nice music keeping the mood going. I suspect the dubious quality is a result of yet another botch job by an Australian distributer that won’t use the international version.
Overall: Peaceful if vacant of substance, Bottle Shock is saved by one thing: The greatness of one Alan Rickman, a truly talented actor. I shall therefore be nice to it and just manage to give it 3 out of 5 stars.