WATCH THE TRAILER HERE
First, the Recap:
Pressure. Strain. Stress. We can all relate to it, sadly on a daily basis sometimes, whether it be related to our personal or professional lives. As is usually the case, it then comes down to exactly how we choose to handle it. Will it be creatively, channeling the sense of challenge, and turning it into opportunity? Or, will it be destructively, isolating those closest to us, thanks to bad choices? John (Jesse O’Neill), Mateo (Josh Mitchell), Franco (Vanja Kapetanovic), and Ed (Josh Thrower) are the best of friends. Besides their basic camaraderie, the foursome also share a common vocational goal–to become certified and successful sommeliers.
However, in pursuing this lofty, ambitious goal, they have all chosen to sacrifice large amounts of time and money for the sake of the ability to pass the official sommelier’s exam. The high-pressure facets of this journey are already putting initially mild, then more blatant, demands on their relationships as well, whether between themselves or others. But, after they all take the exam, the results for three are good, but one of them fails, the consequences of which reverberate amongst them and everyone else as well. Facing further tensions, broken trust, and fractured friendships, the impact of it all ends up taking each of them on new roads that could lead to disaster–or unanticipated prosperity.
Next, my Mind:
Delivering a very straightforward, uncomplicated, ensemble cast-based drama with clever stabs at reality TV thrown in for a little comedic atmosphere, director Josh Mitchell’s new feature film presents an interesting exercise in simplicity of execution combined with a satisfying message behind it about the desire for success we aim for, the price paid for accomplishing it, the worth of loyalty, the sting of betrayal, and ultimately being able to rise above those things that would drag us down and find a way to rebuild and discover better paths. The pacing here is fine, the profanity-laced (admittedly not pervasive) dialogue was still a bit tedious for this reviewer at times, the cinematography follows the narrative with ease, and the background music score seemed perfectly suited for the film’s specific beverage-centric premise, evoking images of Italy and/or California’s wine country.
Mitchell takes on not just directing here, but the role of Mateo as well, a chef for a Spanish restaurant with a level head on his shoulders whose passion for becoming a sommelier is only equaled by the concern and allegiance to his fiends. But, he’s also someone who won’t take being pushed down lightly either, and the character’s journey through this kind of dynamic as the circumstances arise between these four friends is a hard fought one, only choosing to remain invested to a certain degree until things improve and, frankly, people have chosen a side. O’Neill portrays John, a man who has the same drive to attain success in the wine tasting business, but is also greatly hampered by the unyielding expectations of his father as well as a particulary nasty addiction that threatens to disrupt it all. Reaching a final breaking point, John realizes his need for help and it becomes an integral turning point for the character, well-played by O’Neill.
Kapetanovic enacts Franco, a bruiser of a man who seems like the ultimate combination of intelligence, then oafishness, but in the end all arrogance, dependent on the situation he’s in or what means he’s choosing to attain what he wants, even if it means stepping on those he supposedly values as pals. Watching as he gets lead down a narrow path to trouble is actually quite hilarious, as he seems so overtly oblivious to what’s really happening, even when he believes he’s in control, and Kapetanovic plays it so entertainingly. Thrower provides the film’s primary catalyst for events in giving us Ed, a very normal, down-to-earth guy with a life that he sincerely wants to improve by finding his career path on a better course via becoming a sommelier. When a bump in the road occurs, however, it totally unsettles his entire mindset, upsetting his bond with everyone around him, possible derailing any chance of coming back from the spiral he finds himself falling into. The recovery from it all is heartfelt and human, credit to Thrower’s acting here.
Supporting turns abound, far too many to fully list, but key elements are provided by Jenae Altschwager as Josefina, a cunning and savvy woman who takes Franco for a ride, Samuel Whitehill as John’s father whose high hopes for his son only add to John’s inner issues, Yvette Gregory as Beatriz, Ed’s longsuffering girlfriend, Ash Kadian as Dev, who becomes a great help to John, Rose Wakesho as Josefina’s friend Rose, Gary D. Lopez as restaurant owner Jose, and Alysa Scanzano as Ana, Mateo’s lady love. In total, “Wine Tasting” is a decent little indie film that entertains while being basic in its overall presentation, focused on character and narrative, which is exactly what continues to make independent cinema the engaging genre it is.
As always, this is all for your consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading!