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Amy Poehler. Maya Rudolph. Tina Fey. Rachel Dratch. Must I go on? Actually, yes… because while I’d like to name drop these lovely ladies (and more I’ve yet to mention) in glowing praise, Wine Country isn’t the time or place. On their own, and together in the past, they’ve moved us to happy tears with their bold humor in modern hits such as Baby Mama, Bridesmaids, Mean Girls and of course all together on SNL. Yet, this mellow stroll through Napa Valley is a bit of a drag.
The Netflix film is Amy Poehler’s first full-length directorial project, and she brought her funniest gal pals along for a ride that’s inspired by Rachel Dratch’s actual 50th birthday celebration in Napa. Wine Country follows six longtime friends on a three-day vacation of planned festivities mapped out by Poehler’s Abby, reminiscent of Leslie Knope’s binders in Parks and Recreation. As the getaway unfolds, the women each face a vice of their own in a more sobering comedy than were used to from the SNL stars.
It doesn’t help that each character has exactly one trait: Poehler’s Abby is a planner, Ana Gasteyer’s Cat a workaholic, Emily Spivey’s Jenny is a homebody, Rachel Dratch’s Rebecca is getting one year older (yep, that’s a personality I guess) and so on. These singular characteristics motivate their actions for the entirety of the movie, making for some terribly predictable and uninteresting storytelling.
But it’s funny right? It might be to some. Wine Country is specifically picking at 50-something women in its bits about dictating texts to Siri, not knowing who Dua Lipa or Chance the Rapper are, and jokes like that. The girl gang comes off as a walking cliché of the “wine o’clock” moms – understandably so, considering their SNL roots, but whenever a movie like this has worked in the past, it's because it treads the line between outrageous and relatable. These Wine Country women are muted versions of both.
It’s tough not to lay comparisons to the great comedy starring SNL women of our age – Bridesmaids. Many may go into Wine Country thinking this is the eight-years-later kind of version of that comedy, and it simply doesn’t live up to that billing. There’s a lot missing in regards to memorable comedic moments and heart that this movie just doesn’t possess. Maybe audiences don’t need to see Maya Rudolph poop in another wedding dress in the middle of the street, but a scene like that delivers where this movie doesn’t. There just aren’t any brave scenes that go there -- or anywhere beyond a few witty wisecracks here and there.
The beginning of the film establishes itself as a comedy. The movie centers on the squad exploring their friendships, and the types of struggles that come with the middle-aged years. Each woman is trying to drink off their cares and worries for the weekend and kick back, but the secrets they’ve kept and loose ends within their relationships are what propel the film forward.
Wine Country works to some extent, and there are some entertaining moments and heartfelt scenes in Poehler's movie. The story picks up the pace in the middle and starts to grow on you for a glimmer. It also has an ending that may help patch up all the missed beats throughout. Overall, it just won’t hold the audience over throughout, and fans of the female SNL icons likely will be disappointed. The movie attempts to be a fun-loving comedy that doubles as a drama with something to say. Instead it will likely become glorified background noise.
Wine Country could have been the cheap drug store wine to buy with friends because, "Hey! The crowd is great either way, so let's just have some laughs." Instead, it’s the aged and “prestigious” bottle dusted off from a cellar that you're afforded a single sip of. Swirl it around and give it a gulp – but it’s just not as much fun as getting tipsy and laughing until our sides hurt.