Wine Country - Review

Funny at times, preachy at others, Wine Country is too absorbed in modern culture for its own good.

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Without battle lines, armies or leaders, it’s easy to feel like a war is going on between the old and the young. It’s simple to believe that this is a new war, brought on by out-of-date viewpoints and ridiculous aspirations, but the reasons are as paper-thin as the imaginary battle. In their new film, Amy Poehler (director), Emily Spivey and Liz Cackowski (writers) team for an ensemble sojourn into, you guessed it, the glorious valleys and vineyards of Napa Valley wine country for an argument over this very 21s century problem.

Wine Country is a curious compilation of fragments. Specks of Paul Feig’s comedic timing pop up in Poehler’s directing, and the love of unnecessary cameos persists throughout. Often it feels like Poehler and her friends planned a trip away together, and decided to film it documentary-style before realizing they could ship it to Netflix for little cost and high return.

That may be a cynical reading, but Wine Country doesn’t offer many other conclusions; only that being honest matters, and young people are as helpless to do anything about the world as Gen X’ers. In a particularly confusing scene, the six women taking a much-needed vacation attend a young friend’s art show, the subject of which is The Nanny’s own Fran Fine. It’s ironic (duh), but the ensuing shouting-match between the old and the young over what is relevant and what matters is as ridiculous as the token inclusion of the LGBT community as a shock gag for the aging ladies. Without a hard-hitting payoff, the prolonged debate feels unnecessary, and isn’t funny enough to work on two levels. It reads, like the majority of Wine Country, as a pat on the back to those who have let world issues slip by unnoticed, assuring that everything will be alright because it just will.

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As with Feig’s Ghostbusters (and the ill-fated Ocean’s 8), the ensemble is the defining characteristic of Wine Country, luckily made interesting by the razor-sharp delivery of its core cast. Maya Rudolph predictably takes center stage for the film’s biggest scenes, like the misnaming of Kesha as Keisha, or the glorious build-up to a passion-ridden ballad that ends with her falling off a piano, yet she never steals a scene from another actress. Ana Gasteyer and Paula Pell succeed with great delivery, and deliver some of the best lines of the film, leaving Poehler and Rachel Dratch in the dust.

Neither is new to the quick-witted comedy of TV (which Wine Country resembles to a fault), nor the female-aimed humor the film zeroes in on, yet they are relegated to playing squares. Poehler is a control freak, and I shouldn’t even have to remind us of this, but she did play one for seven seasons on NBC; here she is bored, relying on others to do the heavy lifting while she doles out necessary exposition and dialogue to keep the film moving. You could argue someone had to do it, but why did it have to be her? Dratch suffers a similar fate as the focus of the “50th Birthday Celebration” trip, an honor she consistently tries to avoid. Yet as it teases celebration of age and life as a woman, Wine Country has little else for its cast to do other than fight.

A faux-woke attitude can’t right the misguided plot, which is replete with lazy “We all worked at the same pizza shop in 1996!” backstories, along with a near-compulsive desire to remind the audience that these women shouldn’t be acting the way they are; the mere existence of this cast is proof that age and gender have nothing to do with quality, but you will be reminded.