When a film opens with the title, "Based on a true story," one wonders if the filmmakers are trying to bolster a flimsy premise with claims of authenticity.
But "Bottle Shock," which had its world premiere at Sundance, enshrines an irresistible story that happens to be (mainly) true. It takes place in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, and in these cynical times, it is nice to be reminded of an American victory that is actually worth celebrating. This might not have been a momentous world achievement, but it was a gratifying victory all the same.
The contest takes place in the world of wine, in a time when California wines competed for the first time in a prestigious competition in France. One of the competitors was Chateau Montelena, a vineyard owned by Jim Barrett, who dropped out of the corporate rat race to pursue his dream of cultivating grapes. Jim is just one of the engaging characters in this tale of American hayseeds taking on French connoisseurs. Because of the wine backdrop, some will compare the film to "Sideways," but the comparisons are not really fair. This is a different kind of movie, a classic underdog tale with lots of humor and heart. With the right handling, it could be a hit on the specialty circuit.
The film begins by introducing an intriguing ensemble. In the Napa Valley, Jim (Bill Pullman) is locked in constant battle with his slacker son, Bo (Chris Pine), who works for him at the vineyard. Another worker, Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), the son of a Mexican field hand, hopes to launch his own label. Both of the men are infatuated with Sam (Rachael Taylor), a new arrival in town. Meanwhile, in Paris, Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) hopes to revive his failing wine business by sponsoring a competition, and a friend encourages him to visit California to add a new gimmick to the contest.
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