Director: Amy Poehler
Paper Kite Productions/Netflix
Wine Country is funny and sweet and thoughtful, both light-hearted and subtly impactful – but it’s getting the pass-mark only from a lot of critics, damned by faint praise because the expectation is Bridesmaids.
With a crew of real-life friends, ex-SNL all the way from the writer to director to stars with both screenwriter (Emily Spivey) and director (Amy Poehler) pulling double-duty by joining the acting cast that also features Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Paula Pell and a couple of cameo-moments from Tina Fey, I guess it is a case of high expectations. But I certainly got the film I expected – and enjoyed it immensely.
This group of actual friends play characters that don’t get to see each other so much since life is busy for everyone but the 50th birthday for Rebecca (Dratch) means they’ll all be heading to wine country – Napa – to drink and eat and be merry. In place of OTT slapstick there’s a realistic portrayal of friendship and frustrations and there’s plenty of funny lines – but this is well honed. Comedy with substance. It isn’t about the easy joke and the obvious delivery – though Pell’s horny lesbian Val is a little too one-note in focus. But the pay-off is worth it.
And that is where Wine Country delivers. There’s heart. There’s an attempt to say something. We get the signature scene-stealing moments from Rudolph that we expect. And if Poehler’s Abby is just a less-likeable Leslie Knope – that’s okay. We have the always-great Gasteyer (Catherine) and Spivey’s depressed Jenny to, erm, delight in – such well-drawn characters. Real people. Really getting on and then not getting on. Really dressing and speaking and acting as real people might.
Wine Country is by no means a classic – it’s just a safe-bet, the corners of the mouth will turn up the requisite number of times. You’ll think about the parts of your life that lined up with this – the get-togethers that go pear-shaped or the anxiety around the focus to ensure that they don’t.
And in the gaps there’s some great observational humour.
Sure, the movie doesn’t really know how to end. But the fact that an all-female superstar ensemble comedy exists – with no gimmick, no stereotyping, no studio-demands that derail…well that was enough for me. I think Wine Country deserves a watch. And more kudos than it’s currently receiving.