Bottle Shock Review

Aug 08, 2008 | 2:53pm EDT

Full of wonderful characters and smart witty dialogue--not to mention the wonders of Napa--Bottle Shock is based on the true story of the beginnings of the California wine industry and its underdog triumph at the blind Paris wine tasting competition of 1976. Using this as a backdrop the film is really a character study focusing primarily on the rocky relationship between novice vintner Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) and his happy-go-lucky son Bo (Chris Pine). Despite the generational and other gaps between them they both have a common goal of producing the perfect Chardonnay at the Chateau Montelena vineyard Jim in the early ‘70s. By happenstance Brit Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) is in Napa on the prowl for the perfect bottle for the upcoming French wine tasting contest he is sponsoring in France which he thinks will boost business for his money-losing Paris wine shop. The elder Barrett passes on the idea but Bo who has just been blown off by their gorgeous intern Sam (Rachael Taylor) in favor of his buddy Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez) is looking for something to lift his spirits and manages to get two bottles of their wine to Spurrier just as he is about to leave. There’s just one complication: It seems the wine has turned brown a circumstance that seems fatal until some even more astounding facts turn up. The ever-reliable Rickman is absolutely delightful in his role as the enterprising vino connoisseur and leads the perfect cast along with perennially underrated Pullman ideal as the frustrated perfectionist Jim Barrett. The real find of the film however is Chris Pine all raggedy long hair and free-spirited attitude as the love-struck Bo. Pine who’ll play Captain Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek reincarnation is just terrific here totally endearing as he etches a character we root for heart and soul. He is certainly an actor to watch out for. It’s also easy to see why he er pines (pun intended) for Sam a stunning charmer lovingly played by Taylor. Rodriguez (Six Feet Under) is a perfect addition as the romantic threat to buddy Bo. Rounding out the cast in style are veteran Dennis Farina who has a couple of nice scenes and the lovely Eliza Dushku who works at the local bar. Director Randall M. Miller’s last feature attempt was the overly sappy and hopelessly sentimental Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School but what he’s achieved with Bottle Shock is a quantum leap forward in quality. As co-writer (with wife Jody Savin who also co-produced and Ross Schwartz who came up with the idea in the first place) he has infused the film with just the kind of light touch to make this real-life story work as that rare kind of glorious human comedy from the heart. It’s a pure delight that goes down like the finest of wines with a superb look and feel--particularly highlighted by Michael J. Ozier’s eye-popping cinematography. Of course when you have Northern California’s breathtaking wine country as your canvas it would be hard to screw it up. Bottle Shock is on a par with some of the sleeper comic successes of recent years including such Oscar winners as Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine. Like those sleeper hits Miller has unleashed a 100 percent-certified cinematic gem the perfect tonic for a summer night.

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