Bottle Shock

Movie Information

The Story: A Brit wine snob with a failing shop in Paris arranges a blind wine-tasting competition between French and California wines -- with an all-French panel of experts. The Lowdown: Based on fact and drowned in TV-movie level dramatic embellishments, this little indie offering has one thing going for it -- Alan Rickman -- and he may be enough.
Score:

Genre: Fact-Based Comedy-Drama
Director: Randall Miller (Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School)
Starring: Chris Pine, Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodríguez, Dennis Farina
Rated: PG-13

Promoting a film as “this year’s Sideways” is the quickest way to increase my trepidation. Sideways (2004) is part of that select list of movies—along with Little Children (2006), Lost in Translation (2003) and In the Bedroom (2001)—that everyone goes nuts over, but leave me cold. I watch them. I can even sometimes admire them, but at bottom, I don’t like them at all. I was almost relieved to see that Bottle Shock was not being fawned over by the critical populace. In fact, its reviews have been on the slightly bad side of evenly split. Having seen the film, it’s easy to understand why.

Aside from being a classic example of taking a fairly simple story and bitching it up by grafting on at least two, if not three, unnecessary, unpersuasive and largely inconclusive subplots, Bottle Shock raises the question of whether or not a pretty good movie can be killed by a really bad wig. In this instance, I’m going to say it can at least come darn close. The matted mass of 1970s hair (or what director Randall Miller imagines 1970s hair to be) sitting atop Chris Pine’s head like a spectacularly bedraggled puli is the most bogus-looking mop since Eric Roberts and Cheech hid out in the jungle in 1989’s Rude Awakening. (If this is somehow really Pine’s hair, then for the love of Vidal Sassoon, get the man to a sheep shearer.) Is this too much fuss over a wig? I don’t think so, because it’s more than distracting here, it makes it even harder to like Pine’s already hard-to-like character. And liking that character is essential to the film.

Getting past the tonsorial issue, what we have here is a film with a beguiling central story—based on true events—that is built around a charming and surprisingly deep lead performance from Alan Rickman as a semi-stuffy Brit who opts to promote his less-than-successful Parisian wine shop by staging a blind wine tasting where French and California wines go head to head. (There’s no big drama. We know the Yanks come out on top from the onset.) Great, but the movie keeps going off on tangents it’s hard to care much about. Not surprisingly, these tangents are generally embellishments. In real life, for example, father-son winemakers Jim (Bill Pullman) and Bo Barrett (Chris Pine) bonded by going fishing. In the movie, they bond—and let off the steam of their uneasy relationship—by punching the crap out of each other in a homemade boxing ring. Uh huh.

Let’s toss in Freddy Rodríguez (Planet Terror) as the real-life Gustavo Brambila. The subplot about him wanting to make his own wine is authentic enough, but it goes nowhere in the course of the movie. If that’s not enough, we can add a dumb triangular romance involving Bo, Gustavo and hippie girl “intern” Sam (Rachael Taylor, Transformers). This also goes nowhere, since the tone makes it clear that she has to end up with Bo.

There’s also a surfeit of surface. A handful of sun-dappled shots of the scenic beauties of the vineyards of Napa Valley are fine. A couple dozen and you’re inching toward travelogue territory. The same is true of the preposterously artsy shack Sam lives in. It’s bereft of plumbing, electricity and even windows, but hey, it’s picturesque as all get-out. In fact, it looks perfect for a skin magazine layout on “natural girls,” which, thanks to the PG-13 rating, we are here missing.

The performances are not terribly good either. It’s not entirely Pine’s fault—the script is largely responsible—that Bo is hard to like, but a more inherently sympathetic actor could have brought something to the role. Rodríguez fares a little better, but the overstuffed movie keeps losing sight of him. Taylor is mostly decorative or used as a plot device. Pullman’s turn as the elder Barrett is just downright strange. He alternates in between mulish recalcitrance and looking like he might accidentally smile to such a degree that I wondered if he was playing Barrett as mildly demented.

However, there’s also Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier—and when he’s on-screen, all is right with this movie and the world. His amusingly sardonic take on everything—though invariably appealing—is something Rickman could do in his sleep. But there’s more. He isn’t merely a figure of fun driving about California in a rented AMC Gremlin and being subjected to Kentucky Fried Chicken (did they even have the KFC Extra Crispy recipe in 1976 when the infamous wine tasting took place?). He’s an enthusiast and a man whose world-weary demeanor is a veneer to cover a desire for surprises he thinks aren’t likely to come. It’s truly a remarkable performance—and one that makes the movie worth a look. But you might want to look fast. There were 11 people other than myself in the audience on Friday night. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual content and a scene of drug use.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

7 thoughts on “Bottle Shock

  1. Ken Hanke

    They’re apparently not giving up on this movie, but it should be noted that on Friday, it moves from the Hollywood to the Cinebarre.

  2. There’s an interesting story behind this film that bodes a frightening future for “indie” movies. A few years back with this cast any number of studios would have snapped this one up, but due to independent studios folding, funding drying up, illegal downloading and well, years of sub-par indies, the director is having to distribute BOTTLE SHOCK himself.

    CHE, the 65 million dollar Soderbergh film that won an award at Cannes, also hasn’t found a distributor.

    Hollywood is to blame for a majority of this, dumping thousands of crappy “indie” films over the past decade or so. However, I’m afraid that we will soon enter a dark time for true American auteurs.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Actually, the director did release this himself originally, but it’s now being handled by Freestyle, one of the remaining indies.

    Think Film either is gone, or near to it. There’s still Magnolia and Overture is actually branching into more mainstream. Sony Classics and Fox Searchlight are still around. And Samuel Goldwyn (who have become the most media friendly of all) is there.

    An award at Cannes doesn’t mean all that much in terms of getting a distributor, and actually all it won was a Best Actor for Benicio del Toro. And there’s that running time of 258 minutes. Call me cynical, but I suspect that there may be sound reasons for no distributor — especially in light of how uneven Soderbergh is.

    Who are the true American auteurs, though? Aren’t they the same people who made the crappy indie films that Hollywood picked up? So they’re to blame, too. Then too, not all auteurs are on the fringes of filmmaking.

  4. I’m glad that this film found a distributor.

    Warner folded New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse into itself earlier this year as well.

    Here’s a couple of links that describe the situation a little better than I can. The first is from Film Department’s Mark Gill. The second is an interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal, and her comments are towards the end…

    http://www.indiewire.com/biz/2008/06/irst_person_fil.html

    http://www.avclub.com/content/interview/maggie_gyllenhaal

  5. Ken Hanke

    I’m not saying that there’s not a problem. I’m saying it’s not the end of the world and that indie filmmakers are themselves as much to blame for making lousy films as the studios for picking them up and distributing them.

    There are other factors — one of which I’ve railed about endlessly. That’s distributor greed. Everytime they get some little picture that they think will do better, they decide it has to be booked into too many theaters at once. I’ve seen Sony Classics shoot at least three movies in the foot this way on a local level — and I don’t for a moment think it’s unique to Asheville. Neither studios, nor corporate theater chains pay any attention to what plays well where, and this is a huge problem that could be fairly simply addressed if both would pay attention to the folks who work in the trenches. But they don’t.

  6. I agree with you on everything, but I guess the point that I’m trying to get across that it is going to get worse for smaller films. My fear is that the next Scorsese or Ken Russell or John Cameron Mitchell will not have the tools and the funding available to them in order to craft the next work of genius.

    Like big-budgeted films, most of what I see in indie films is crap, but there are more gems amongst them. I don’t want to see them go away. There’s always the British!

  7. Ken Hanke

    My fear is that the next Scorsese or Ken Russell or John Cameron Mitchell will not have the tools and the funding available to them in order to craft the next work of genius.

    This is actually less about being able to make these films than it is about getting them shown. But that’s a major issue, I agree. The idea that the option is that people will watch these movies on their cellphones is, to me, ludicrous. But worse, I agree with David Lynch on this point — you only think you’ve seen a movie you watched in such a format.

    Somewhere in all this, though, someone needs to actually define what is meant by an indie film. The terms seems to have become as elastic and meaningless as “alternative rock,” which embraces so many styles that it tells you nothing. Is Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto an indie because Sony Classics released it? After all, it’s got Pathe money and UK Lottery Fund money behind it. (Probably Canal+ too, but I don’t offhand remember.) But is it as indie as say Mitchell’s Shortbus or Tim Kirkman’s Loggerheads? Offhand, I’d say no.

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