”BOTTLE SHOCK” (2008) Review
If someone had suggested I go see a movie about California wines and its impact upon the business in the mid-1970s, I would have smiled politely and ignored that person. As it turned out, no one had told me about the 2008 comedy-drama, ”BOTTLE SHOCK”. Two years would pass before I found myself intrigued by it, while watching the movie on cable television.
Directed and co-written by Randall Miller, ”BOTTLE SHOCK” told the story of Jim and Bo Barrett and how their Chardonnay became the first American-grown vintage to win a famous blind wine tasting contest now known as ”the Judgment of Paris”. The contest was sponsored by a British wine connoisseur named Steven Spurrier and held in France. Spurrier wanted to use the contest as a means to be accepted by the French wine connoisseur community. The movie also chronicled the Barretts’ difficulties in maintaining their vineyard, the Chateau Montelena, in the face of mounting debts, Jim Barrett’s reluctance to participate in Spurrier’s contest, and the efforts of a Barrett employee named Gustavo Bambini and his father to start their own vineyard. The desires of the Barretts, Bambini and Spurrier centered on the latter’s blind wine testing competition that made history for the Barretts and California wines.
While reading about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”, I discovered that the movie had received a standing ovation following its screening at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Personally, I believe that Miller and fellow screenwriters Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz did an excellent job in creating a heartwarming movie filled with sharp humor, adversity, human drama, some romance and a good deal of warmth and whimsy. More importantly, Miller, Savin and Schwartz, along with the cast, gave the movie such energy and drive that I found myself developing interest in the topic of wine growing – something that would usually bore me to tears. There have been complaints about some of the historical accuracy in the movie. Why bother? ”BOTTLE SHOCK” is a movie, not a documentary. I have yet to come across a movie or play with a historical backdrop that was completely accurate.
Cinematographer Michael J. Ozier did a marvelous job in capturing the warmth and natural beauty of Napa Valley, with its rolling hills and vast vineyards. With different lightning, he captured the cool elegance of Paris and the French countryside. And costume designer Jillian Kreiner had the more difficult job of capturing the basic styles of the mid-1970s. This was at a time when fashion was in a transition from the wild, Age of Aquarius styles of the early 1970s, to the more ersatz elegance of the latter part of the decade and the 1980s. By the way, one should keep an eye on Dennis Farina’s loud, leisure suits that seemed to symbolize the entire decade . . . at least for me.
I had felt a bit confused over the identity of the film’s leading man. I could not decide whether it was Alan Rickman, Chris Pine or Bill Pullman. In the end, I decided to view all three as the film’s leads. And they led a very fine cast that included Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Miguel Sandoval and Eliza Dushku. I had a ball watching Rickman’s portrayal of the sharp-tongued wine connoisseur, Steven Spurrier, who found himself dealing with a new culture in California wine country and the possibility that European countries like Italy, Germany and especially France were not the only places to produce fine wines. At first, Chris Pine’s portrayal of the young Bo Barrett reminded me of a possible dress rehearsal for his performance as a loutish James Kirk in 2009’s ”STAR TREK”. Thankfully, his performance as the younger Barrett proved to possess more nuance, as Pine revealed him to be a vulnerable young man that seemed unsure about whether he was ready to embrace his father’s passion for winemaking, as his own. My only problem with Pine was the blond wig that he wore. I found it atrocious and wished that he had been allowed to portray the character with his natural hair. I personally believe that Bill Pullman gave one of the movie’s two best performances as the complex Jim Barrett – the man who originally injected new life into the Chateau Montelena during the 1970s. His Barrett was a proud and stubborn man that was passionate about his vineyard and who masked his insecurities with a great deal of pig-headed behavior.
Also providing top notch performances were Dennis Farina (of the loud leisure suits), who provided a great deal of amusement and wit as Spurrier’s fictional American friend in Paris and fellow wine connoisseur, Maurice Cantavale; Rachael Taylor as Sam Fulton, the free-spirited intern at Chateau Montelena and Bo’s object of desire; Miguel Sandoval, who was deliciously sardonic as Mr. Garcia, another worker at Chateau Montelena; and Eliza Dushku, who gave an amusingly edgy performance as a local bar owner named Jo. At last, I come to Freddy Rodriguez, who portrayed the Barretts’ ambitious employee, Gustovo Bambini. He gave the movie’s other best performance, conveying not only his character’s ambition and wit, but also a raging passion for wintry and a short temper.
What else can I say about ”BOTTLE SHOCK”? I laughed, I cried and I managed to enjoy both the story and the performances, thanks to Randall Miller and the script he co-wrote with Jody Savin and Ross Schwartz . But more importantly, I found myself surprisingly interested in a topic that I would not have usually wasted time even discussing. On that point alone, I would heartily recommend this film.