I may not be an experienced wine drinker yet, but I can safely say that from the minute that I tried wine, I fell in love. I enjoy beer, especially the sour ones I’ve recently discovered, and love experimenting with cocktails, but wine is a choice that I am always happy making. In the world of wine, I am a dedicated red girl, but I know there is so much to explore. As pretentious as this opening sounds, I really do think wine and fun go hand in hand, and I’m looking forward to exploring the world of wine as time goes on.
Given my love of wine, I was excited to check out Somm, which has been in my Netflix queue for a few months. This documentary follows four men who frantically try and prepare for the Master Sommelier Exam and delves into both the good and the bad parts of deciding to pursue a career as a somm. The whole sommelier career seems incredibly amazing, exciting, and fun to me, so I was looking forward to gaining some insight into this world. Unfortunately, this movie turned an A+ career into a C- film.
The opening scene features grapes being picked and processed as they begin their journey towards becoming wine, and it’s all done in slow motion, as if the director is trying to equate it all with some over-the-top sex scene he’s seen dozens of times before. They’re beautiful shots, but they have this soft-core porn feel to them like wine is an actor trying out for a new HBO show. The opening wouldn’t be bad on its own, but the music that plays in the background it is all very campy, cheesy, and unnecessary. With all of these poor choices, it ultimately comes off as contrived to begin with, but I had hope that it would get better as the camera moved away from corks being popped into the story of these four men.
What I found least compelling throughout the film was the interviews of the families of these potential Masters. These men are studying all day and going through thousands of flashcards all night to gain enough knowledge of pass the Master Sommelier test, so obviously the people closest to them should know the most about the pitfalls these guys run into. However, it only skims the surface. The girlfriends and wives just say things like “Oh, I’ll be happy when it’s over” and “He spends all night studying,” while their parents say “He’s always loved wine” and “I don’t know where he picked it up,” but we don’t really get to know these men or how being a somm fits into their lives. There is so much of the personal impact that is unexplored and it could have easily been expanded upon.
Another part of the movie that really bothered me was the lack of any actual wine information in a movie about somms. These guys could have just been booze-hounds studying for any examine. There are skimpy facts on how many regions of wine there are and some shots of each guy shoving his nose down a glass, but I know nothing more about the art of wine tasting after this hour and a half. Sure, the focus of the film should be on the men taking this journey, but I was also expecting some insight into the world of wine. This would have been even more appreciated considering the movie failed its main goal and lacked any compelling characters.
The climax of the film is obviously the results, which I won’t give away for those interested in checking this documentary out, but I do have to say it didn’t have the suspenseful feel to it that a competition should have. This is real life, so there is no dramatic music or intense shots, but I still wanted something with a little more ‘oomph’ after all the build up to this supposedly life changing exam. I’m not sure if it would have changed my opinion at all, but by the end of this movie, I was ready for something else and didn’t particularly care about these potential Masters.
The core problem with Somm is that it waters down a topic that has the potential to draw in millions. It turns this interesting job into an excruciating film. The men that are being filmed don’t even seem like they enjoy it, and this is what they’re choosing to do for a living. They’re stressed and worried, which is to be expected, but their joy at having this opportunity isn’t highlighted well at all. There personalities (if they have any) don’t draw me in, and I’m not even going to start with the lack of female influence in the somm world. The only thing that could dull the pain of this move was, ironically, a glass of good wine.
Somm misses the mark on a lot of points and has more of a cheap reality show feel to it than any edge-of-your-seat documentary spice. When I want to watch a documentary, I want to be surprised and discover new things, but Somm doesn’t offer me any of those exciting feelings. Unless you’re obsessed with sommeliers and have to see anything and everything to do with them, I would suggest skipping Somm and searching for some other food documentary to feed both the movie junkie and food porn addict inside of you.
My kids just told me about Somm, but we were mostly talking about the difficulties in becoming a sommelier, since I’m a little familiar with how challenging it is. They didn’t really critique the film for me. Your write-up is very interesting. I still might watch it, out of curiosity, but I love your critique of it. Thanks!
I’m glad you liked my write-up! I was really looking forward to watching it, but it definitely left me wanting more. If I come across any better portrayals of it, I’ll let you know. I think I was hoping for some more information…although the mock-exams that they did throughout the documentary did seem incredibly difficult!
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