Film Review – Vino Veritas
The title of Vino Veritas (2013) is derived from the Latin proverb meaning “in wine, the truth.” There are people who – after too much alcohol – will say what they’re thinking, even if it’s smarter that they don’t. We all have secrets, and sometimes it’s better not to share them. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In director Sarah Knight’s film (screenplay by David MacGregor), this ability is completely removed. What happens when people are unable to hide their feelings? Will we still be able to maintain our relationships if others knew what we thought of them? What happens if we knew what they thought of us?
This is an interesting premise, but a difficult one to maintain. How many times have we seen a film where people spoke the truth, just to say nice things about others? The construct only leads to ugly situations. Can this be sustained for a film’s entirety? Jim Carrey managed to do it using his comedic ability in Liar Liar (1997). While Vino Veritas is listed as a “comedy,” it clearly tries to handle much heavier material. Every person’s ugliness is exposed, like a constant rotation of character flaws. It’s tough to stay engaged while seeing them continuously hash out their problems without a resolution in sight. One issue comes up, then another, and then another. You get the idea.
We first meet married couple Phil (Brian Hutchison) and Lauren (Heather Raffo) on Halloween night. Phil and Lauren were once happy and deeply in love, but time and real life has caused a rift between them. Phil has settled in with the suburban lifestyle they’ve grown into, while Lauren still desires the spontaneous, adventurous life they had as young lovers. They are both preparing to attend a Halloween party (without their kids, who are not seen), but cannot step away from arguing over their problems.
We then meet the second couple, Claire (Carrie Preston) and Ridley (Bernard White). Ridley is an accomplish doctor, and Claire seems focused on winning the costume contest at the Halloween party, spending months on it. Their kids are also not seen. The night begins normally enough, with pleasantries and snacks before heading to the party. In an attempt to spice things up, Lauren breaks out a special wine she got while she and Phil were on a trip to Peru. This wine – made from the skin of blue dart tree frogs – has the power to make people speak only the truth. Despite Ridley’s protests, the group all takes sips of the magical elixir.
If someone gave you a drink made out of the skin of a South American tree frog, would you drink it? These characters are all grown adults, who all seem smart and level headed, which makes it all the more confusing to see them drink something they know nothing of. What if it were poisonous? I understand this is potentially their YOLO moment (You Only Live Once), but there’s a difference between living life to the fullest and doing something idiotic. Almost as soon as they drink the wine, all four start to spout off their true feelings about themselves and each other. Secrets are revealed, some of which hit a very deep and dark place for all of them.
The film is set exclusively in Phil and Lauren’s home. The screenplay – heavy on dialogue and thin on plot points – sets everything up like a stage play. It’s fine that all events are held within the confines of one place, but the restrictions that keep everyone there are not convincing. The whole time I thought “don’t these people need to get to the party?” Also, because of how raw each character becomes telling the truth, I wondered why they would want to continue talking to each other. Does the truth serum disable them from walking out if they can’t handle what is being said about them? There’s a masochistic element happening in how each character doesn’t like what they’re hearing, yet stay like they’re locked in place.
We visit some very strange topics here. The dialogue vacillates between the couples themselves and some random, unrelated issue. One moment, we hear about what some characters do in private, and then another we learn a strange theory about the inappropriateness of Winnie the Pooh. The characters talk about how they handle their kids and then switch to theories about 9/11 and their place in the universe. A character will be offended about something said about them, and then run off on a philosophical discussion without a second thought. The dramatic flow never maintains consistency.
The actors all do their best, especially Carrie Preston, who is tasked with playing a character that becomes more over the top as the story goes on. But the writing doesn’t keep up with effort of the acting. There’s not enough in Vino Veritas to sustain tension. The random tangents of discussion lose whatever momentum it builds, preventing the film from ever hitting the right emotional beats.