(Freestyle Releasing) Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Alan Rickman, Dennis Farina, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Eliza Dushku, Bradley Whitford, Miguel Sandoval. Directed by Randall Miller
Once upon a time, the only real wine was French wine. Everything else was just grape juice that had been left out too long. At least, that was the French point of view and pretty much everyone went along with it.
British wine seller Steven Spurrier (Rickman) sells French wines in Paris, which is a tough road for a Brit. He realizes, somewhat glumly after a bit of prodding from his pal Maurice (Farina) that the only way his business is going to survive is to sell wines not generally available in Paris, which would have to be non-domestic wines. But how to get the French public to accept wines from elsewhere? He came up with the idea of hosting a blind taste test between French wines and wines from California, adjudicated by French experts with the test itself to take place in France. He somewhat irreverently named this competition “The Judgment of Paris.”
It was a difficult sell at first. The French wine cognoscenti were of the impression that California winemakers are dilettantes, rednecks and stoners – which wasn’t far from the truth – unpracticed in the skills of making great wine. For their part, the Californians are a bit intimidated by the concept and most regard the snooty Spurrier as a bit of an odd duck.
Jim Barrett (Pullman) has some troubles of his own. A lawyer by trade, he had fallen in love with winemaking and left his firm to buy a winery, and operate it. Chateau Montelena has some very good winemakers working for them – not the least is the mercurial Gustavo (Rodriguez) who has one of the finest palettes around and Jim’s son Bo (Pine) who is fiery and passionate but a little bit lacking in direction.
Add a beautiful young intern named Sam (Taylor) to the mix and there are fireworks galore. Chateau Montelena is on the verge of going under and is relying on their first batch of wine to save the entire business. Sure, their wine is okay but is it good enough to stand up to the best wines in the world?
In fact, it did. This is a movie based on real events – the Judgment of Paris did take place and the results established California wines in the marketplace as comparable in quality to the best French wines. The test took place May 24, 1976 and sent shock waves throughout the entire wine industry, essentially establishing the California wine industry into the multi-billion dollar enterprise it is today.
It’s a fascinating story that few Americans are aware of and when the movie is working, it is charming and full of heart. Unfortunately, it’s a bit busy with subplots – did we really need a love triangle and a father-son issue while all this was going on?
Rickman is, as usual, outstanding as the overbearing Spurrier. “Why do I hate you,” seethes Barrett at one point in the movie. “Because you think I’m an asshole” responds Spurrier primly, “Actually, I’m not an asshole. It’s just that I’m British, and you’re not.” Rodriguez is exceptional in a role that is based on a real person who worked at Chateau Montelena (although not at the time of the Judgment) and went on to found a winery of his own. Pine and Taylor have chemistry (although Pine’s wig is absolutely laughable) but Pine suffers because his part is basically designed to have conflict with all the central characters in the movie, but he carries it off as a lovable screw-up.
Fans of Sideways will probably get a kick out of this. Something tells me Miles and Jack from that movie would have dug Bottle Shock big time, although Miles probably could have pointed out all the factual inconsistencies in the movie, of which there are many. Still, it’s a grand story, one that is important and should be told, and it’s told pretty well here. Come to think of it, I think I can use a glass of wine right about now.
WHY RENT THIS: When the movie is working, it has a great deal of heart and charm. Rickman and Rodriguez are exceptional in their roles. I thought the movie had a good deal of offbeat, funky charm. Oenophiles will delight in this.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Unnecessary subplots bog the movie down. Some of the factual inconsistencies seem a bit arbitrary and unneeded.
FAMILY VALUES: Some drug use, some mild violence and a little sex, but very little. Probably not for the wee ones but suitable for teens.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The street scenes in Paris were actually filmed in Sonoma, California. I had no idea that Sonoma looked so Parisian.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a feature on the real Chateau Montelena winery that was prepared by the winery and not the filmmakers; it might have benefited from the participation of professionals.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Where the Wild Things Are and possibly a surprise
Stay tuned for Six Days of Darkness….starting Monday!!!