Bottle Shock is a crowd pleaser, and like all crowd pleasers it is mildly entertaining but doesn’t have a lot going on under the surface. It is certainly more akin to an average Gallo Chardonnay than an ethereal Chateau Montelena.
The movie succeeds in maintaining a very broad appeal – oenophiles get to enjoy wine references (including an homage to Sideways with the declaration that the ’47 Cheval Blanc is the “best wine ever made”), while non-enthusiasts get an aesthetically appealing story about 1970’s Californian culture.
But the film’s broad appeal is precisely its undoing; just like in wine, complexity and elegance are sacrificed for mass appeal. It is yet another example of Hollywood cashing in on a recent trend. In addition, Bottle Shock fits all too perfectly into the “American triumph” genre of film. I was hoping it would focus on the actual historical event of the 1976 Paris blind tasting, but instead it depicts another tired version of the rags to riches/American dream story.
The characters, while good for the odd chuckle, are one-dimensional and rudimentarily developed. Several have potential and could have been explored to the film’s benefit – I wanted to know more about Joe (Eliza Dushku), the saucy, wine-savvy bartender. But the vast majority are static personifications of cultural stereotypes: Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) as the snobby, bumbling Englishman who can’t change a flat tire, Bo Barrett (Chris Pine) as the epitome of a 1970’s stoned surfer, Gustavo Brambila (Freddy Rodriguez) as the quick-tempered Mexican who waxes poetic about the earth, and Sam (Rachel Taylor) as the bleach blond pair of legs whose seemingly sole function is to sleep with the male cast.
Alright, perhaps I’m being unnecessarily cruel. As I said, on the whole the movie is basically enjoyable despite its shortcomings. Just don’t think about it too deeply and you’ll be ok. Oh, and wait for it to come out on DVD.