Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blind Movie Review--"Somm"

“Somm” is probably the worst movie I haven’t seen this year. Though anything with Morgan Freeman is a close second. That guy will do anything for a paycheck. Hell, he’d be a perfect somm. In fact, now that I think about it, all “Somm” needs is Morgan Freeman, perhaps as Andrea Immer-Robinson, to whom he bears a passing resemblance. I made a point of not viewing “Somm” for this review, and I’m glad I did. Too much emphasis is placed on actually viewing a movie before you review it, discovering what the movie is about, its subject matter and plotlines, its story development, its director and its stars. Reviewing a film blind is far more objective. It removes any prejudices I may have brought to the screening. I think you’ll agree that blind movie reviewing is the best way to get to the core of the film, and the best way to evaluate it. Hard to imagine a sommelier could disagree, at least.

Let’s begin with the title. Why “Somm” and not “Sommelier?” Were they worried about the number of letters on the theater marquee? Hell, it won’t be up there more than a week. Or is it because Americans are incapable of pronouncing “sommelier?” Well, that’s the truth. I used to hear “som-lee-ay,” and “som-a-lay” and “prik.” But I always think "somm" is a bit derogatory, a bit diminishing. And it’s not consistent throughout the film, from what I made up in my head. For example, no one calls Fred Dame simply, “Dil.” Is he even in the movie? If he is, I loved Linda Hunt’s performance as the old M.S.

“Somm” follows a bunch of guys as they attempt to pass the legendarily difficult Master Sommelier exam. It seems few women attempt the exam, which explains the absence of stirrups. The film has the obligatory time-lapse shots of clouds passing over vineyards (a symbol, I suppose, of the fleeting nature of time and the irrelevance of what these bozos are doing—either that, or the clouds look like ponies), as well as more time-lapse photography of vineyards going from dormant, to sprouting leaves like the Jolly Green Giant’s pubic hair, to being laden with grapes and, finally, to being harvested by Jolly Brown Dwarves, who wouldn’t know a somm from la migra except the somm’s shoes are dirtier. What this has to do with four dweebs cramming their pickled brains with wine facts escapes me. It’s said that maybe only 1 in 50 manage to pass the M.S. exam. So it’s exactly like the Miss America Pageant, only these guys don’t need to have a talent or a Brazilian.

If you don’t know that much about wine, much of what is discussed by the four candidates may seem like gibberish to you. It is, actually. I mean, look at those dorks, you know English is their third language, after Elvish and Klingon. The boys talk in short hand about the general character of a variety of grape varieties. This might come in handy the next time you feel like a dinner guest has overstayed his welcome. For example, we learn that Viognier has the characteristic smell of “Nathan Lane’s Wet-Nap.” Zinfandel can be pegged to “I threw up a little Pop-Tart in my mouth.” Seyval Blanc reminds the boys of “Melissa McCarthy’s landing strip.” A round of Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noirs yields the descriptor “Don Knotts.” And Syrah is given away by its distinctive aroma of “Bev-Mo 5¢ Sale.” There’s way too much of this kind of babbling in the film, but it does accurately reflect the kind of secret lingo that prevails in the wine world. When it comes down to it, it isn’t knowing wine that really matters, it’s knowing how to speak the language of wine that fools people into thinking you’re a wine expert. Con men always learn to talk the talk first.

But along the way, as we watch the guys sit around and drink thousands of dollars worth of wine, spit profusely, and expect their wives to clean up (are they becoming sommeliers or Arab princes?), we start to fall in love with them and their obsessive pursuit of an M.S. They’re likable enough guys, in the way all self-absorbed, narcissistic men are--think Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson with tastevins. The filmmaker, pity that guy who had to sit through endless hours of tastings with those bores, manages the nearly impossible task of making the audience root for these guys; though it’s to fail, of course.

The M.S. exam consists of three parts. The service exam is perhaps the easiest of the three. The boys have to learn how to smoothly upsell a wine list (“Really, domestic sparkling wine for her birthday? Planning on riddling yourself later?”), pour just enough wine in the first three glasses so the host’s glass is only half-full, remember to not take phone calls from annoying wine salespeople (“Remind her I only taste with winemakers or other M.S.’s”), and show up drunk for work. No one fears this part of the exam, or the second part, which entails a scholarly essay on some esoteric part of the wine business. One of the boys fails when he states that “Phylloxera is the capital of Pennsylvania.” It’s Harrisburg, moron.

It’s the third part of the exam that the boys spend the film fearing—the blind tasting. A candidate has to taste six wines blind in 25 minutes and identify them with no other clues besides how they smell and taste. The wine could be made from any of the thousands of grape varieties, and could be from anywhere in the world. Passing this portion of the exam is the most difficult part, and, as with any good exam, it’s a gift a sommelier will never make use of again. In what other test is the passing grade dependent on a party trick? You only have to do it once to get the result you want. Basically, it's like erotic asphyxiation done right. It's at this point in the film that the suspense builds. We’ve watched our heroes taste countless wines, crack endless wise, cry, wet the bed, call Jancis Robinson and breathe heavily, dance with Chaz Bono for good luck, stick pins in their Larry Stone voodoo doll (actual size), and swordfight with Erectile Dysfunction victims. All that for those two letters after their names.

Yeah, that seems worth it.


Julie Pedroncelli St. John said...

Ron! I was waiting for your review on this summer blockbuster. Thanks for the morning giggles--Linda Hunt etc

PaulG said...

Good stuff Señor Hose! For more variations on the theme, see "Somm Enchanted Evening" on my blog.

Quizicat said...

Phylloxera, isn't that where that groundhog comes from?
And Morgan Freeman is just trying to pass Michael Caines record. They should really be in a movie together.

Steve Lay said...

Bo Barrett is in this film? Got some pretty poor reviews. Did not see it either but trust HoseMaster's review. Guess the flick got "Hosed"

David Larsen said...


The Sommeliere said...

Ron, please, baby please baby, do not think "derogitorally" about me as my California license plate is Somm 1.
I wanted Somm, but some jerk in Napa already had it.

So, folks who don't know about sommeliers think it means "Someone!"

Unknown said...

Boring movie?? What exploding wine glasses, guys packing their luggage into their car, sitting around tables talking about obscure wine traits... my God just peed myself thinking about the excitement.. almost as good as Zombie Z. Man of Steel, Sandra Bullock movies.. jeesssus... what is there to see..

Lee Schneider said...

I haven't seen it either and I agree with everything you say. Thanks for the laughs.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hi Julie!
Thanks for finally chiming in! Morning giggles are the best giggles.

"Somm" is a gimme for puns. You took one of the best ones. Low hanging fruit, but, that's the sweetest kind.

I'm sure Caine and Freeman were in a movie together at some point. Hey, a working actor is a paid actor. They're both wonderful actors, if overexposed. Like that guy in the trenchcoat hanging around the playground.

I might go see "Somm" only because I love a good summer comedy. Stupid plot, gorgeous scenery, alcohol and romance, and a happy ending...what's not to like? Aside from that it's crap.

David Larsen,
Pee in the cup, man, not on my foot.

Marlene Darling,
My plates say HOSMSTR--had them since 1989. Most people think it means Hose Monster. So hard for me to think badly about you, My Darling. Somm 1 is better than Know 1.

David Pierson,
Go see it and give me a report. No urinating. That's for wine competitions.

Thanks. The laughs are on me. As is David's pee.

Dean Tudor said...

At the risk of offending...nobody seemed to mention the fact that sommeliers can (and do) spit into wine glasses..gross...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Another reason to review "Somm" blind.

Every now and then you'd see someone spitting back into their wine glass at a tasting, and, yes, it is disturbing and nasty. Probably should be illegal.

I'm wondering when the new "Somms" will have their own labels. Most of those wines one wants to spit into the nearest and easiest receptacle.

Anonymous said...

From Merriam-Webster online-


French, from Middle French soumelier, official charged with transportation of supplies, from Old French, pack animal driver, probably alteration of *sommerier, from somier, pack animal, from Medieval Latin saugmarius, from Late Latin sagma packsaddle

First Known Use: 1829

I am thinking I might remind them of their humble origins next time I ask for old world and get a 15.5% blueberry pie with a slice of barrel stave. Go pack a donkey!

Chris / 'Knurd

Ron Washam, HMW said...

That's a Master Donkey to you.

Yes, it's a title that has very humble origins, a fact most sommeliers conveniently forget.

Unknown said...

Phyolexra is the capital of Harrisburg? I thought it was a "root louse". I don't know what louse means, but I'm pretty sure that's what you're supposed to call it.

First of all, I was the last person to see Sideways or Bottle Shock, so I had to see Somm right away. The wife and I drank a bottle of wine while watching, and were thoroughly entertained. We have been imitating their tasting style ever since. And we have used the phrase "star-bright" many times.

Secondly, and I know this shows me off as a total wine nerd, but the opening sequence is not the life cycle of a vineyard, contrary to what every blog has said. It actually shows a wine going from grapes to glass. I know this doesn't matter to 100% of the population; but as a winemaker, it's been driving me crazy.

Finally, let me say that I kinda liked Somm, the same way I like that really annoying and earnest guy that all of your friends think is a dork. Sure, its a movie about a bunch of upper-middle-class urbanites pursing a piece of paper that only matters to about 1,000 people in the world, 200 of which have passed the test already. I guess it allowed me to embrace my inner nerd, and appreciate something my star-wars friends think is stupid.

My personal, non-blind review of Somm: only watch it if you are a total wine geek who is not in the restaurant industry. Otherwise, you can always hate-watch it, I suppose

Unknown said...

p.s. I'll stop posting after drinking wine when you stop..your face...or whatever...