Wine Country movie review: Amy Poehler-led Netflix film has all the right ingredients but ends up being a let down

Sonali Kokra

May 14, 2019 19:11:57 IST


When Amy Poehler directs a Netflix film called Wine Country, packed with her friends and funny women from Saturday Night Live, you settle into bed to watch it with a bottle of wine, a ginormous tub full of popcorn, and a heart full of hope. Unfortunately, the popcorn gets over too soon, the wine turns into vinegar, and hope leaves the room long before the movie grinds to a halt, a full 103 minutes later.

Wine Country’s problem isn’t that it is predictable — there’s a healthy dose of predictability one expects, even looks forward to, while watching a movie about six women who’ve been friends for something close to three decades. What makes Wine Country flatter than three-day-old soda is that none of those women manage to wriggle into your heart or get under your skin, and after a while, it looks like they aren’t even trying. Even those of us who dismiss Sex And The City as an exercise in frivolity, generously indulging women’s obsessive need to talk about the men in their lives, can’t beg indifference to the very particular brand of neuroses exhibited by the fashionable four. Wine Country and its spiritless six inspire no such devotion.

So what went wrong? Quite a bit.

 Wine Country movie review: Amy Poehler-led Netflix film has all the right ingredients but ends up being a let down

A still from Wine Country. Netflix image.

The movie starts promisingly enough. We’re introduced to the six middle-aged — and very white — friends and their circumstances through a burst of phone calls as they try to finalise plans for a weekend getaway to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of their own. The writers, also SNL alumnae, Emily Spivey and Liz Cackowski, do a fine job of establishing their characters within the first few minutes itself.

Abby (Amy Poehler) is the take-charge, one-woman planning committee who makes all the decisions, reservations, and even itineraries that account for every minute of their time. We also see her packing up her desk as she’s making these plans, so we know that her obsession with throwing the perfect party might have something to do with losing control of her professional life. Naomi (Maya Rudolph) is an overworked mother who can’t even seem to take a dump without having to chase an errant child out of the bathroom with a lightsaber. Rebecca (Rachel Dratch) is the birthday girl who more or less wants to ignore the fact that she’s almost finished 50 years on earth. She’s also a therapist, and in denial that her husband is a human parasite. Catherine (Ana Gasteyer) is the successful workaholic, riddled with guilt for always being too busy to vacation or be fully present in the moment. Val (Paula Pell) is the token queer person whose just had her knees replaced and can’t wait to try them out with some “spirited sixty-nineing”. And Jenny (Emily Spivey) is the Nervous Nellie of the group, anxious about everything, from semen on the walls to other people’s bedspreads.

The ground is fertile for heartwarming comedy as the six make their way through Napa Valley — touring vineyards, tasting wines, attending art shows and eating at restaurants that serve tiny portions of food that, quite plainly, “isn’t enough”. Disappointingly though, little about their interactions or interpersonal relationships is arresting or chuckle-worthy. The film’s few high notes all come from situations, not conversations among the six — like the time they end up at an art show, surrounded by an insufferable, self-important lot of millenials who were “born with hurt feelings”, or the time they can’t wait for the owner of the vineyard to finish prattling on about her organic wine so they can down it and be on their way. It might be a bit too on-the-nose for some people’s liking, but to me they were a welcome relief from the indifference settling in for the characters’ individual story arcs.

There are, of course, some well-timed, self-directed jokes that land pretty well, but most of them belong to Tine Fey, who makes an appearance every now and then, as the sardonic Tammy, the owner of the villa the six have rented. She ends their tour of the villa with a throwaway, “I’m sure you have a lot of toxic jibber jabber to get through”; and advises Catherine to cut short any sentence that begins with “Can I just say something” because nothing good ever comes after that sentence. You can’t help but smile at them. And which all-women’s trip is complete without confessions, revelations, and toxic jibber jabber? At the very least, Wine Country and Poehler and Co. do a good job of owning up to it — they’re neither proud, nor ashamed of it.

Secrets, of course, eventually tumble out, as they were always meant to, as each one has a meltdown, albeit of varying intensity. Abby admits that her life is spiralling out of control, Rebecca feels the weight of her 50 years and a marriage that is weighing her down, Catherine works up the courage to yell at her friends for treating her like an afterthought, and eventually they all rally around Naomi to help her confront a terrifying situation.

If Wine Country was meant to help women find humour amid the humdrum of their lives, it misses the mark spectacularly, no matter how much you can relate to the situations playing out and each character’s ability to live in some state of denial. What Poehler does manage, somewhat, is to emphasise the importance of friendships fostered over a lifetime, and how much women depend on the solidarity of their sisters, especially as the years wear on and health, marriages, sex lives, and careers start to fall apart. This Wine Country neither has the richness of a full-bodied red, nor the zippiness of a crisp white, just the barely-there headiness of spiked punch.

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Updated Date: May 14, 2019 19:11:57 IST