Now Playing on Netflix: Captain Kirk as a Hippie, or, Everything You Never Knew You Never Knew About the Emergence of Californian Wine

Posted on 06 December 2010 by ChloeG

I avoided this one for a long time.  Docu-dramas don’t really strike me as real movies, and one about wine was even less appealing than most.  Skepticism is warranted, but for reasons outside of my control I did end up starting it.  And because of an amusing selection of cast, I continued watching it.

Bottle Shock is the story of the emergence of California wine as a legitimate competitor to the ancestral French vineyards.  Its plot follows mainly two characters, Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), an English vinophile who owns a wine academy in Paris, and Bo Barrett (Chris Pine), the son of a Napa Valley vineyard owner.  In an effort to drum up business and legitimate his exclusive preference for French wines (and at the urging of peculiar non-customer Maurice (Dennis Farina)), Spurrier decides to arrange a blind taste-test of various wines and travels to California to select the entrants that will represent Napa Valley.

The setting is the 1970s, 76, if you’re old enough to know the difference, and the California cast is distinctly hippie-hick.  The jeans are too tight, the hair is too long, and the palate-cleanser is corn chips.  There’s nothing you can do but secretly sympathize with Alan Rickman’s dour distaste for the locals.  This is not the société that one associates with fine wine, but Rickman’s Spurrier perseveres, paying for tastings that are served out of mason jars.  Apparently it’s good.

The pair of threads through the movie – the wine competition and the alternate story of ne’er-do-well Bo Barrett – don’t tie together very well.  Actually, calling Bo’s life a thread might be a bit generous.  Bo and his father (Bill Pullman) don’t ever resolve anything, but rather don boxing gloves and beat the snot out of each other.  Bo and best friend Gustavo con the locals in a blind identification of wines selected by bar tender Eliza Dushku (yes, Faith, the anti-Buffy, seriously).  Unpaid, broke intern Sam (Rachel Taylor) lives in a house without walls on three sides and spends the greater part of the movie turning Bo down for casual sex.  Why is she working at a vineyard for no pay without being invited by the owner?  Because it’s the 70’s of course.

At no point does the movie try to sort out the two coming-of-age stories going on.  Perhaps if I were in a more generous mood about it, I’d say that it was a clever symbolism, but mostly it’s just two stories.  One is the one that the docu-drama is supposed to be about, while the other is the entertaining plot upon which the purpose is hung.

The history lesson has a certain charm to it.  Nothing pleases the American ego like a story of American ingenuity and persistence spitting in the eye of established industry.  And wine is interesting enough, in its own way.  The character story is charming enough, as well.  Captain James T Kirk with dirty, chin-length blond hair is worth a giggle, if nothing else.  There’s nothing wrong with this movie.

Nor does this movie have anything to recommend it, though, in much the way that chewing gum has nothing to recommend it.  If you’re a docu-drama junkie, it’s well done, interesting, well-paced, and well-scripted.  If you’re more of a ‘why isn’t this movie doing anything’ kind of a viewing public, this is a little like watching an episode of That 70’s Show – a well-timed sense of humor, dysfunctional relationships, generalized identity angst, non-sequitor quasi-violence, and occasional references to Woodstock.  I liked it a lot, but I can’t specifically justify it.

The metrics:

  • Would I see this movie opening weekend?  Ha.  No.
  • Would I see this movie in theaters at all?  I haven’t seen RED yet.  Bottle Shock is way to silly to justify a movie ticket.
  • Would I recommend this movie arbitrarily as a ‘good movie’?  Yes.  It is.  And a member of Hogwarts’ staff lectures a member of the Enterprise crew on fashion.  Good fun.

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