All your favorite comedians head to Napa? Wine not give it a try? Let’s talk “Wine Country.”
When I first saw promotions for the new Netflix original film “Wine Country,” I couldn’t help be excited about it. The Amy Poehler-directed film boasts a powerhouse cast of all the biggest female names in comedy: Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph, Paula Pell, Tina Fey and Jason Schwartzman. And Amy Poehler also joins the cast! That’s a lot of star power!
The film centers around a group of longtime girlfriends, all gathered together in Napa to celebrate their friend’s 50th birthday. But their luggage isn’t the only baggage they brought along, and tensions spill over.
Okay, I’m on board. Seems like a classic recipe for shenanigans.
What has all the promise of a fun and light film just seems to fall short of anything quality. It’s fun, it’s formulaic and these are all forgivable sins, but the lost potential makes that pill a little bitter to swallow.
At the core, “Wine Country” is an excellent portrayal of female friendships. It has this warm chewy center that makes one nostalgic for the slumber parties of yore, while also having you sigh fondly over the idea of your own friendships being so long lasting.
It’s hard to capture in words but there is such an intimacy to female friendships. It’s a unique quality that is deeply felt, and really only understood by those in such relationships. It’s heartwarming to see that brought out in these characters. Separated by various walks of life, but brought back together by a bond.
If the thesis statement of “Wine Country” was just female friendship, I’d give it a gold star. But, in actuality, “Wine Country” has another, much more interesting, thread weaving through it.
“Wine Country” places a lot of emphasis on themes of control: How we cope with the things that are beyond our control. How we seize control of our own lives. How we attempt to control our circumstances to better navigate our disappointments.
It’s an interesting development that is played to perfection — sometimes in glaringly obvious performances. This is, after all, a point that is driven home by Poehler’s performance. But, sometimes these questions of control are much more subtle, and those are some of the most full-bodied moments in what boils down to a crisp chardonnay of a flick.
To echo my thoughts from the introduction, it’s a shame that “Wine Country” dilutes the richness of its cast and the better notes of the narrative with extremely formulaic tropes that are as basic as a rosé.
“Wine Country” falls victim to every tired comedy trope, and not in a good way. We’ve got a little bit of slapstick. We’ve got a dash of “haha generation differences” humor.
The whole film seems to be going through the motions. It’s funny, but only because of the cast and just how stellar they are, and “Wine Country” comes off as more cynical and bitter than it does warm and lighthearted.
Moments of the film’s humor are a bit off-balance. Would it be weird to call the film cranky?
Because that’s what it feels like. All of the tension of the narrative that is supposed to speak to these women and their struggle to maintain their aging bond as their lives take different turns instead translates into jokes that just kinda make you feel sad.
I’ve already said that this cast is great, but it doesn’t necessarily make them an ensemble. Individual shining moments feel disconnected from the overall tribe dynamic, and it’s only in key scenes that you get that warm fuzzy feeling.
If I were going to try to summarize “Wine Country” in a single blurb it would be: Keep the warm feels, but try it as a soft drama and not so much a comedy.
Seriously. The “funny parts” were what killed it for me.
My verdict? For all its flaws, “Wine Country” is fine. It asks very little and delivers just enough to meet basic expectations.
No doubt, viewers will find their own moments that resonate and soften the whole film.
“Wine Country” is available on Netflix now!
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. She currently serves as the Lead Film Contributor for Shuffle Online; other notable bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.