Review: Wine Country (2019)

Six middle-aged best friends decide to celebrate a 50th birthday by taking a trip to Napa Valley. It’s a comedy of old friendships, women clashing over issues that have gone unstated for years. Starring Amy Poehler (who also directs), Maya Rudolph, and a bunch of other SNL alumni, a film like Wine Country should hopefully have at least something to offer on the comedy front.

Despite their presence, Wine Country is simply uninspired – it has all the styling of a made for TV movie, which seems to be Netflix’s standard quality line. There’s nothing very cinematic about this experience; if you’re setting a movie in Napa Valley, you think you’d want to fit in a few nice shots of the vineyards, as it’s a wonderful countryside. But, no, Wine Country serves up little beyond medium shots of people speaking, never paying much attention to the location it named itself after besides a few establishing shots – it’s real easy to joke that Poehler and friends simply wanted a paid vacation.

Naturally, a film like this is focused more on its writing and performances, specifically humor, and while some jokes land, it never goes beyond much of a chuckle. The highs aren’t very high and a ton of moments fall flat – the women involved in this movie have much better work I’d rather revisit. My one exception is Paula Pell, and not just because I’ve never really encountered her before – Val’s story simply covers fresher territory than the others, following her as she falls for a woman much younger than her.

I started writing this review as soon as I closed my Netflix tab, and I’m already struggling to recall the highs. Instead, I find myself focused on how tone deaf the whole thing feels. These characters are swimming in personal issues, but they’re all so specifically upper-middle class that it’s hard to relate. Marital and work drama is a bit harder to sympathize with when the same characters are also dropping hundreds of dollars on novelty goods.

There’s one scene in the middle of the movie that really drags everything down with it. Val’s crush, the waitress from their first night, invites the group to her art exhibit. She’s portrayed as this shallow caricature making obviously meaningless art, and we end up with a scene where a bunch of well-off white women publicly tear into the art of a queer Asian woman who, again, works as a waitress. It’s all so condescending, falling back to that old cliche of how ‘coddled’ the young people are these days.

This would work if the point of the movie was to explore a bunch of rich white women being awful, but then this movie expects us to sympathize with those same awful characters. You can’t have it both ways, which suggests Amy Poehler doesn’t understand just how unlikable she made these characters. I really don’t care that Ana Gasteyer’s Catherine feels constantly left out by her friends; she’s a drug-obsessed workaholic who’s rude to service workers. It’s not like this film is filled with these negative scenes, but the lack of much positive means those are the moments that stick out.

Wine Country is a typical Netflix release, with no sense of artistry and a halfhearted attempt at an already familiar script. What’s disappointing here is that it involves people who are typically better than this. I think someone needs to give Poehler a big ‘oof’ for this one.

2 Stars Out of 5

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