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Mamoudou Athie in Uncorked

It took writer/director Prentice Penny four years to make his sleeper Netflix success in the film Uncorked. With this particular movie giving him his shot at becoming a feature film talent, the #1 showing that Uncorked racked up on the Netflix Top 10 was as surprising as it was rewarding when it happened upon the film's premiere. Not only was it a welcomed result because of the hard work that Penny put into his debut feature, but it also said something encouraging about the film marketplace today.

I recently spoke with Prentice Penny during a phone interview following Uncorked’s surprise success in the world of streaming. Just as one would expect, even the film’s creator was surprised when the news came in last Friday morning, as Penny explained thusly:

What’s crazy, to me, when I woke up and people were texting, ‘Yo, it’s number one’, I was like, ‘What?’ Because I was just happy to make a movie that I felt was like me, and that would be movies my friends would want to see; to watch people sort of galvanize and be like ‘Yes, these are the stories we want to see.

There were times when Prentice Penny was tempted to sell his Uncorked script, with the intent to direct his next feature film script. It’s one of those decisions that always crops up when you have a long wait from page to production, and with a career as busy as Penny’s, it wouldn’t have been a decision anyone would have faulted him for.

As a television stalwart, both writing and producing for shows like HBO’s Insecure and NBC’s Brooklyn Nine Nine, Prentice Penny has been plugging away at new and exciting shows that have captivated youthfully and ethnically vibrant audiences. While he was given opportunities to write sequels, reboots and remakes of various projects, thanks to his success in the world of TV, Prentice Penny really wanted to tackle a project that left his personal stamp on the world.

2014 saw him start work on the Uncorked script, with four years of work passing between the first draft and shooting the project. The story would change along the way, with the ending of the film in particular evolving. In the end, everything landed in a way that Penny wanted to see occur in a film.

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Naturally though, scripts with no identifiable IP have a harder time getting off the ground, and with his career writing in other people’s voices for TV being so fruitful, Uncorked sadly had to wait. You could see how someone like Prentice Penny could see merely the fact that his film was made as the true victory, with the surprises that would happen upon its release being nothing but gravy.

This is especially true when Prentice Penny told me, in a moment of characteristic candor, he really didn’t see the film as something that screamed out as a “#1” release in a world that, for the most part, gives that honor to tentpole franchises. He continued to explain his shock at Uncorked becoming the top of the Netflix charts, with this viewpoint on the modern studio system:

There’s nothing in that movie that says ‘Oh, it should be number 1.’ There’s no studio begging for black father/son relationships that aren’t about basketball or rapping, or that are in the world of wine, with a black man bike riding through Paris. There’s not a lot of studios asking for that kind of movie. I think it just speaks to how people want to see more three-dimensional lives. Movies like Stella Meghie’s The Photograph or Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, which gives us people of color a normal life.

Public response to Uncorked has had Prentice Penny hoping that this pattern will change, with major studios looking to portray more authentic experiences in the lives of people of color. It’s the sort of attitude that permeates every frame of his Netflix original film, as the “normal life” approach that Penny’s Uncorked focused its story around was meant to create a personally relatable movie for the audience. That was especially important, as the family dramedy genre is one that typically needs to throw in anything and everything that adds what might be seen as some extra, marketable pizzazz.

A story of a father and son, or even an entire family, tends to set its action in front of a holiday friendly backdrop, or with some sort of event of great importance heightening the story’s stakes. You’ve seen it with the litany of Christmas movies that are made each year, most of which become cable staples around that time of year. Penny wanted to avoid that trope, and it was something he hammered home with his Uncorked crew with a particularly apt metaphor:

I remember on set I would tell a lot of the crew and the department heads ‘We need to make this movie as if it’s existing on a Tuesday. That’s the day of the week that is happening.’ So it’s not a Christmastime movie, it’s not a special time of year, it’s like just a regular ass Tuesday. That’s how everything should feel, because the more normal and grounded it feels, I think that will become more relatable.

That approach to Prentice Penny’s work on Uncorked signals just why his Netflix film could have been successful at any given time. But with the world currently going through some tough times, a ‘regular ass Tuesday’ even feels like something special. So for those that actually wanted an extra element of pizzazz, Uncorked now takes on that very angle, without having to do anything extra.

If you’re longing for the days where you could go out with friends and family, open a good bottle of wine and chow down on some of the finest barbecue known to humanity, Uncorked will give you that experience and then some. Just be ready to enjoy an extra side of family drama and all of the emotional depth that it brings.

Uncorked is currently available on Netflix’s streaming library.

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