It’s essentially an open secret at this point that Adam Sandler’s recent cinematic output just seems to be a way for him and his friends to go on paid vacations and call them movies. That was basically the Grown-Ups films, and his contract with Netflix, and even the third Hotel Transylvania film is an animated cruise trip. And so is it equality, then, that Amy Poehler’s Wine Country seems like basically the exact same thing? Is this progress for women, that Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell, and Emily Spivey all seem to be having a blast, but that the resultant movie is unfunny and forgettable? I hope Poehler at least got that Sandler money? I laughed exactly twice during the 103-minute run time, which is two times more than the last time I watched a Sandler movie, so I guess that’s a good thing.
Wine Country follows a group of longtime friends who, after years of not seeing each other because of personal and professional commitments, reunite in Napa for Rebecca’s (Dratch) 50th birthday. Every woman has a bare sketch of a personality: Rebecca doesn’t want to make a big deal out of her birthday, possibly because her disinterested husband would rather play video games than pay attention to her. Abby (Poehler), who has planned every second of the 3-day trip and printed out full-color itineraries, is pouring all her effort into this after losing her job. Naomi (Rudolph), a mother of three, is ducking calls from her doctor and hiding a medical diagnosis from her friends. Catherine (Gasteyer), the creator of a popular pizza restaurant chain, can’t unplug from her professional life, frantically checking her phone every few minutes. Val (Pell), the owner of a vintage store in Portland, Ore., recently had both knees replaced and is on the lookout for a new girlfriend. And Jenny (Spivey), who frequently flakes on every group interaction, wasn’t even sure she would make it; her sarcasm counters the other women’s overall earnestness.
Years after they all waitressed together at a Chicago pizza joint, the women arrive at a gorgeous home in Napa, where no-nonsense owner Tammy (Tina Fey) tries to figure out their relationship (“Y’all magically fit in the same pair of pants?”) and where chef and driver Devon (a surprisingly hot, very bearded Jason Schwartzman) is waiting to cook for them and drive them around. And also waiting for them is wine, so much wine, enough wine to get them through awkward interactions, like a Tarot card reading session with the very brusque Lady Sunshine (Cherry Jones, Linus’s mom from the Ocean’s films!) and a bizarre art show with Val’s crush, the younger Jade (Maya Erskine, of Insecure).
All that wine means the women get drunk, of course, and the drunkenness leads to moments that are supposed to be funny and supposed to be dramatic, and I say “supposed” because the emotional experiences the women are having onscreen never seem to translate to us. Perhaps it’s because all of these elements feel so familiar—the fear of getting older, especially that fear in women; female friend groups that have grown apart over time; underwhelming romantic relationships that friends critique—and yet Wine Country doesn’t add much originality to any of this. It often feels like scenes were shot and then spliced together to take advantage of one-liners and non-sequitors, and sometimes that works—like when Devon, driving the women around, genuinely asks them, “You guys have DUIs, too?”—but more often, scenes are alternately choppy or tediously long. Val passing out dildos to the women is only funny when she describes one of them as a “penis de résistance”; Jenny and Naomi talking about Prince leads to them each declaring “I’m your Apollonia” and “I’m your Vanity,” but it’s a low-impact laugh for that long of a buildup.
Weirdest about Wine Country is how the script by Spivey and Liz Cackowski often relies on humor that makes fun of young people as a way to unite the women; it brings to mind interviews Poehler and Fey have given in the past where they share a sort of low-key disdain for Millennials, for their use of social media, and for their ideas of feminism. That art show scene is horrendously uncomfortable for how it presents all young people as almost mindless in their parroting of politically correct ideas and attempts to be inclusive, and of course Jade ends up being self-involved and manipulative. The scene just drags, including lines of dialogue like “Young people blow” and “They were born with hurt feelings,” and later on, when the women are critiquing Naomi for not calling her doctor back, they insult her with “You are acting like a Millennial.” None of that is very funny, and if you wanted to be really cynical about this, doesn’t this sort of thinking, in the extreme, lead to that rant Louis CK leveled against the Parkland kids?
Everyone in Wine Country seems to be having a blast; there is a zeal to how these women throw back their wine and launch themselves off the side of a vineyard’s hill and sing along to Bell Biv Davoe’s “That Girl is Poison.” But the script thoroughly lets them down, Poehler’s direction is disappointingly flat, and Wine Country doesn’t feel like a movie made with its viewers in mind.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix Media Center, Netflix Media Center, Netflix Media Center