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"Wine Country" on Netflix

From new contributor Samantha Craggs

In theory, there's a lot to love about Wine Country. It's two whole hours devoted to women in their 40s and 50s, an often invisible demographic in film. What's more it's rarely about typical topics like marriage or children. It stars watchable and funny women. It passes the Beschdel Test in spades. 

But with Wine Country, sadly, the result is as bland as the biscuit and asparagus tones that permeate the backdrop...

The film, streaming now on Netflix, is Amy Poehler's maiden feature directorial effort. It follows six friends who were once servers together at a Chicago pizza place. Through love, nostalgia and force of habit, they've stayed in touch ever since. It's Rebecca's (Rachel Dratch) 50th birthday, and Abby (Poehler), that friend who can never just relax, has planned a packed itinerary for their long weekend holiday in Napa Valley. None of them care much about wine, but they like getting drunk, and they like kicking back in flannel pyjamas and dancing to Kim Wilde and Bel Biv Devoe with people who get them.

Some of the friends are successful, like Ana Gasteyer's Catherine the pizza chain owner, while another is out of a job. Sometimes they talk about each other behind their backs. Sometimes their neuroses are on display, like Abby losing it when no one's into hurrying to the group drone shot. They're all in different places in their lives, with different priorities and methods of communicating, and therein lies the movie's tepid, underwhelming friction.

It's not enough.

The backdrop is pure Napa, with organic vineyards, pretentious art shows and people wearing airy white clothing. (The moments mocking the wine industry are the funniest in the film.) The house they rent looks like it's been plucked from a local real estate magazine, so there's never really much to look at. There are tensions that percolate between the women, and a couple of minor secrets kept, but there are no big plot hills to climb in Wine Country. The conflict is too muted to resist fast forwarding, or to amount to any significant climax. It's basically a display of the various musings and variations of life that exist at 50, a round-robin look at midlife, and the dullness of the film makes 50 look older than it is.

It's not the pedigree. The actors come from the SNL orbit, and they've entertained us for years. Maya Rudolph has always been an underrated natural. Emily Spivey and Paula Pell, both SNL writers, carry their own well -- they're not groundbreaking actors, but neither is Zach Galifianakis. Jason Schwartzman is fun as Devon, who drives them around in a van, requests Sublime and comes with the house. And who doesn't love to see Poehler and Fey in anything or especially taking the stage at awards shows and slaying the audience with sharp, on-point humour? (One of my favourites from their awards show oeuvre: “Matthew McConaughey did amazing work this year,” Fey said at the Golden Globes in 2014. “For his role in Dallas Buyer's Club, he lost 45 pounds. Or what actresses call being in a movie.”)

Wine Country needs jokes that sharp. It lacks the big laughs of Bridesmaids, the acidic humour of Mean Girls, and even the usual feminist magic of Poehler and Fey. It's fantastic that there's an industry willingness to make more of these films, now, but given the opportunity, Wine Country needed to be bigger, ballsier, and edgier. Poehler and company have it in them, but it's not on display here. C

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Reader Comments (12)

After seeing two other made-for-Netflix films (versus made separately and then picked up by them) “Ibiza” and “Juanita” I’m a bit leery of being disappointed, despite the pedigree of this cast. Thanks for the review, as I guess I’ll check this out if someone else wants to see it.

May 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

I didn't give a shit about the lack of plot. People always say "I'd watch so and so read the phone book" and that's exactly what this is. All of the women here were watchable without really anything going on. Paula Pell, especially, landed every line in spades and Tina Fey's rough ass outdoorsy woman was exact. Overall, not a bad viewing experience.

May 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan (the 1st)

I couldn't agree more with this well written review - Welcome Samantha! So much potential - but it lacks sharpness & wit - and I always had the odd feeling like you said the film makes 50 older then it is. Unfortunately after this I'm starting to loose my taste for the lovely Maya Rudolph who's loosing her charm & authenticity to playing caricatures... :-S

May 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

@George P. I agree about made-for-Netflix. One issue is the obligatory Netlix cross-promotions like the Brene Brown cameo obviously timed with her Netflix special. The fawning scene was disappointing when you imagine what Poehler and the writers could have done with a Brene reference if not forced by Netflix.

May 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

This movie is like Madonna’s song with Maluma. Everything is there for it to succeed, but there’s just an old lady trying too hard. Which is crazy because none of these women are old, lazy, or look like they would be a better fit for Book Club or Poms (which is what this film looks like). These women were hilarious and perfect 2-3 years ago. What happened? They’re some of the best writers out there. Like Medellin, it’s soft, slow, low, lame, and could’ve been so much better.

May 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Roberts

Saw the first half of this last night before falling asleep (due to tiredness, not the film). The airbrushing on some of the actresses, particularly Poehler, was very distracting. I’ll finish it tonight probably. Also, Medellín is very good.

May 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarek

I can't wait to watch this, drinking my way through "wine country" is my idea of a good time. Bring it on.

May 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I kept thinking it was undercooked. Maybe there were too many principal characters? Nobody got to be anything more than their silver of an archetype.

There's still funny moments and it's a sweet movie (I rewound the wine tasting scene with Dratch and Poehler several times), but Tina Fey's character was by far the most interesting and she was meant to be peripheral.

May 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

I turned it off some point around the vibrators scene. Just an awkward film.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEoghan McQ

I thought this was a documentary about Poehler et al. drinking wine and hanging out until I started it (something like Rhys and Goode in 'The Wine Show').

I had a lot of the same thoughts as the reviewer but ultimately felt positive about it - it's an amusing diversion with a bunch of likeable actresses.

Also, agree with @Morgan that Paula Pell was great.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

It felt like it was LITERALLY trying to generate jokes AND allow them to come naturally at the same time. The entire film. And yet I never laughed. The acting itself was quite good, but the whole movie came off as cheesy without having heart and thoughtful without having any ideas. Pre-Wine Country. Grape Country.

May 24, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterkris01

I enjoyed it, and was quite surprised that I did. I never understood all the hoo-haa about Bridesmaids - maybe from being too squeamish about the defecation joke. Though "Wine Country" is no awards winner, it was refreshing to see women in their 50's acting real. Tina Fey's quirky character was very nicely played. Love Rachel Dratch in anything, and just the overall SNL style humor.

June 16, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrrrich7

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