Cheers to the winning, winsome cast and crew of the wine-soaked "Bottle Shock."
Bill Pullman and Rachael Taylor in Randall Miller's indie film "Bottle Shock," which is being self-distributed. Faced with too many films trying to find their ways into too few movie theaters, independent filmmakers are trying a new tack: self-distribution. The folks behind "Ballast," a hit at Sundance last year, backed out of their deal with IFC Pictures and are going it on their own.
"Bottle Shock" veers toward the hokey and is surpassingly predictable, and not just because we know the ending. But its heart is so in the right place and its tableau so appealing that it's easy to come away from this sweet, scrappy film with a nice little buzz.
The saga is loosely built around a true story, a 1976 Paris tasting in which French experts compared wines from Napa and France. The "blind" tasting (judges didn't know which wines they were drinking) was concocted by Steven Spurrier, a Brit who owned a wine store in Paris and came to California in search of chardonnays and cabernets to pit against the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
The first person whom Spurrier (Alan Rickman, at his Rickman-est) encounters in Napa is Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), who has shucked a successful career as a San Francisco lawyer to buy a winery, Chateau Montelena. Abetting, and butting heads with, Barrett are his footloose and ambition-free son Bo (Chris Pine, Captain Kirk in the upcoming "Star Trek" movie) and Gustav Brambila (Freddy Rodriguez, "Six Feet Under"), a Latino with a primo palate and an oak-barrel-sized chip on his shoulder.
The arrival of a fetching intern (Rachael Taylor, "Transformers") sparks a love triangle that gets a bit yeasty, and the near-simultaneous appearance of Spurrier ratchets up a just-as-clichéd father-son contretemps. This is no "Sideways" when it comes to the depth of the characters or their stories. But the actors are so engaging, the countryside so beautiful and the wine details so spot-on that the hackneyed and gratuitous aspects (including a ludicrous wet-T-shirt scene) fade into the ever-lush background.
Director and co-writer Randall Miller's sense of humor and clear affection for the 1970s helps. There are great period touches throughout: bongs and bad haircuts, loud suits with limitless lapels, lots of Doobie Brothers tune-age (part of the film was shot at B.R. Cohn winery, owned by former Doobies manager Bruce Cohn) and even that most misbegotten of cars, the AMC Gremlin.
Rickman is masterful, his character fastidious but open-minded, befuddlingly trying to discern what to make of a bucket of KFC or some homemade guacamole or all this surprisingly well-made wine.
And like finely crafted wine, "Bottle Shock" is a tasty, feel-good experience.
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643