Amy Poehler’s Wine Country has its flaws, but also has something Hollywood needs to make more of: Female-centric films that are smart, genuine, and offer something real.
Things have been moving slowly in the right direction in Hollywood when it comes to affording more opportunities from a diversity standpoint to different voices and talents in film and television. With the female directed and written Wine Country, you have a film with its flaws, but that has what Hollywood needs to make more of: A female-centric story that is smart, genuine, and offers something real.
Wine Country dropped on Netflix today and is the directorial debut for Amy Poehler. Her film is almost like being a fly on the wall of one of those Instagram posts or stories of friends from college who have gotten together for a girl’s weekend a decade (or two… well, in this case, three) later. The film has a whip-smart script from longtime collaborators Emily Spivey (SNL, Parks & Recreation) and Liz Crackowski (Last Man on Earth, Community).
The film is set, of course, in Napa Valley, as a group of women who developed a lifelong friendship after serving pies as waitresses in a local Chi-Town restaurant nearly 25 years before. All Poehler’s Abby wants is to have a peaceful and tranquil weekend with her best pals. The excuse for them to all get together is that their friend Rebecca (former SNL cast member Rachel Dratch) is turning 50. They bring along their friends of various character types as well.
There is Catherine (Ana Gasteyer), a work-a-holic who has started a thriving chain of pizza places and now frozen food empire. Naomi (Maya Rudolph) is a stay at home mom with four kids at home. You also have Val (a scene-stealing Paula Pell), who is a lesbian and the proud recipient of a double-knee replacement. Finally, you have that friend who you always have to convince to go anywhere. Of course, when they get together, secrets will be shared, and old grudges will again see the light of day.
Poehler’s film has a lot going for it, as stated before, with its sharp comic eye and observational humor. Many of their best lines work off of the phrase, “things we say now,” that have to do with observations that are current to them and past moments like choosing songs from their generations playlist (“Lauren Hill? Bless it.’). The film doesn’t go for low brow or even high brow for that matter, while most of its jokes are just humorous with one or maybe two laugh out loud moments. When it does go for the physical comedy, the film can underperform when not all of the jokes hit their mark.
The chemistry between the cast is apparent and helps move Wine Country along even when it does start to drag. The film is about 10 minutes too long and could have benefited from some tighter editing that is a bit self-indulgent and even self-aggrandizing (there is an unusual scene with an extended stare from her Abby character). The real ace up her sleeve, however, is the veteran comic Paula Pell, who delivers some of the films best one liner’s (“Look at your skin, it’s like marzipan.”) Tina Fey has a guest spot as the owner of the house the girls have rented out. Her character, though, just comes across more like a Ron Swanson retread character than anything original.
I recently watched The Hustle, a remaking of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which flips the script on the gender roles; it has one of the lazier scripts I’ve seen in a decade. Last year’s Ocean’s 8 stole your money with all style, no substance, and a plot that was on life support. Both of these films are unoriginal, uninspired, and unworthy of your time. Is it coincidence that both of these films were directed and written by men? If anything, it’s not just about casting supremely talented women in studio films or in leading roles anymore; it’s about giving diversity a voice and putting these women as leads in better material.
Wine Country has its flaws, but its finely written script makes it worth your time and offers a mildly enjoyable experience.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.