Greetings again from the darkness. The film isn’t likely to teach you much about wine, wine history or even wine tasting (despite the title), but at least you won’t have to watch Paul Giamatti guzzle the spit bucket. Director Josh Mitchell and writer Justin Samuels have combined on this look at four friends studying for the Master Sommelier exam, as well as how their friendship is impacted by the results.
The opening scene finds the four lads drilling blindfolded for the tasting section. When they are told their answers are “not even close”, we realize there is a bit of humor mixed in with the highly stressful process that requires years of studying and practice (and a high failure rate). It’s also our first indication that the film is a bit stagey, and that the cast may not have the acting chops we are accustomed to seeing on the silver screen. However, this is not a factor of effort, as everyone involved seems committed to their roles and the project.
The director Josh Mitchell plays Mateo, a chef who finds support not just with his buddies, but also with an understanding girlfriend played by Alysa Scanzano. Jesse O’Neill plays John, who tries to handle the stress and long hours with a boost from cocaine; while Josh Thrower portrays Ed, the wine taster who succumbs to alcoholism after his girlfriend dumps him. The most colorful character of the four is Franco, a rowdy and opportunistic Serbian played by Vanja Kapetanovic. These four toss around the “dude’s” and “bro’s” at a pace that would make any stoner movie proud.
The film is at its best when focused on the pressure of preparing for the exam, and it’s the second half that reminds us of the power of friendship … though it leans a bit heavy on dude-drama. The Jason Wise documentary Somm (2012) provides a more detailed, behind-the-curtain look at what it takes to become a Sommelier, and of course, Sideways (2004) and Bottle Shock (2006) are the two best known films centered on wine tasting and wine competition, respectively. While this one isn’t at the level of those films, its description of “fire hose of information” and the relentless studying and commitment to the cause, do hit home.