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dir Randall Miller
scr Jody Savin, Randall Miller, Ross Schwartz
with Chris Pine, Bill Pullman, Alan Rickman, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodríguez, Dennis Farina, Eliza Dushku, Miguel Sandoval, Joe Regalbuto, Bradley Whitford, Philippe Bergeron, Hal B Klein
release US 8.Aug.08, UK 20.Mar.09
Make wine, not war: Taylor, Pine and Rodriguez
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Lively and entertaining, this is an intriguing story about a key collision between the old and new worlds. And while it features a talented, likeable cast, the film is also somewhat rambly and preachy.
In 1976 Napa Valley, Jim Barrett (Pullman) is one of several hippies who have set up wineries and are quietly producing some of the world's best wine. Which is of course unimaginable to the French. So a wine merchant (Rickman) comes from Paris to check things out firsthand, selecting wines to take home for a tasting event he's confident France will win hands-down. Helping him make the rounds of wineries is Jim's layabout-genius son Bo (Pine), his coworker-friend Gustavo (Rodriguez) and their sexy intern (Taylor).
From the main titles we know this film intends to glorify Napa, with sweeping shots of beautiful landscapes, glasses of wine that glisten in the pure California sunshine and a community that is almost idyllic in its support and camaraderie. These are salt-of-the-earth folk, with solid values and common sense. Even amid tragedy or jealousy, their friends will help them overcome anything. Contrast this with Rickman's British snob and his even snootier colleagues back in Paris.
Fortunately, the filmmakers take a laid-back approach that thoroughly engages us, adding a slightly comical tone that keeps things like the romantic-triangle subplot from getting too serious. On the other hand, the story relies a bit too heavily on coincidences (there are several crucial car breakdowns) and way too many simple miscommunications. Meanwhile, the characters are fairly one-dimensional, but Pine is a great charmer, Pullman plays bull-headed extremely well, and Rickman keeps his prickly egoist from becoming a cliche.
This is a terrific true story forced into a film-school screenplay structure, complete with daddy issues, a race-the-clock climax and loads of thread-tying at the end. The writers also can't resist inserting corny speeches to make sure we get the point that sometimes the very best wine is tasted in the cheapest glass. Yeah, whatever. At least the film is sunny and enjoyable while it lasts. And it'll make you want to crack open a bottle (maybe even with a sword!) and settle in to watch the sunset.
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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