Uncorked is a father-son drama that is well-crafted and poignant in ordinary times, but has something more important to say today.
Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) dreams of breaking away from his father’s expectations of taking over the family’s popular Memphis barbecue joint to become a master sommelier. The son is forced to confront his own fear of disappointing his father, Louis (Courtney B. Vance), and his father’s forceful desire to see his son follow in his footsteps in order to become the master of his own destiny.
The film is the feature directorial debut of Prentice Penny, with sharp, well-crafted and at times very funny dialogue. In other times, the bigger societal questions the film poses might be lost to subtlety. The family are not obviously suffering from societal injustice. However, in light of current circumstances, where we are more acutely aware of the pernicious, corrosive effect of racism, we see it as an undercurrent throughout.
The basic premise breaks stereotypical norms. Elijah has big dreams of rising to the apex of a culinary system that is normally the preserve of privileged white people. Meanwhile, his father takes immense pride in successfully building a business that conforms to perceived stereotypes of the African American culinary identity. It is in a way the passing of a baton from one African American generation to the next. Elijah’s freedom to dream is built on the foundational work of his father and his generation.
It is an important theme that doesn’t dominate the narrative, as the premise of the film is ultimately hung on more universal hooks, such as breaking away from expectations, trusting yourself to dream your own path, and following it through.
This film shows how the restaurant is the microcosm of mankind and all its ills and aspirations. A worthy watch and grist to the mill for a time where colour and race are front and central.