In a world where we are so busy that Facebook has become a poor stand-in for quality time with those we are close to, the new gal pal comedy Wine Country pours itself into our cinema-loving lives like a light-bodied, approachable chardonnay after a bad day at work. A feature directorial debut for Amy Poehler, it stars friends Amy, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell, and Rachel Dratch in a story based on a real-life weekend trip to Napa in celebration of Dratch’s 50th birthday. Writers Liz Cackowski and Emily Spivey are also part of the close-knit group, and built the screenplay by blending events and conversations that have occurred on vacation, with elements various members of them have experienced in their own lives. The result is a funny, snarky, and thoroughly enjoyable cinematic trip worthy of a toast, and an impromptu viewing party made from your own crew.
Anyone who has longterm friendships they cherish, especially with women, will relate to the closeness they crave, the conversations and easy laughter that recharge them, sometimes even as it drives them crazy. Even the little digs and resulting resentments that go unsaid, leading to tension and a need for airing will resonate. That these women know each other so well off camera feeds into the believability of how their characters interact, anchoring connection to the audience. Clearly they used improvisation, and my guess is some of the funniest moments are born from them. Lines by Dratch like “park your pooter” and “put me in my finest muumuu” flow naturally from the character she plays, as do a number of quirky lines from the other characters. There are several catch phrases they use as a group, just as many other close girlfriends do, and indeed some of them are actual expressions these women use with each other when they hang out in real life. I know I have a number of them with my oldest female friends, and most would make no sense to anyone outside of us.
There are guest stars that add considerably to the fun. Tina Fey plays Tammy, the no-nonsense loner who rents them their swank digs. Cherry Jones (always, always wonderful) is “Miss Sunshine”, the darkest, bitchiest, and possibly the most expensive tarot card reader you’ll ever see. She is apparently based on someone they actually hired on another vacation. Jason Schwartzman is Devon, who “comes with the house”, and is forever making paella. One visit to an art gallery is particularly amusing, and this is speaking as someone who has owned an art gallery for 26 years. The skewering of the habit lowbrow artists have of co-opting pop culture for financial gain while looking down their noses at it, and the representation of a younger generation working overtime to fit in with each other, while declaring themselves unique and simultaneously bored and engaged, is the funniest part of the film.
At times Wine Country feels like it’s trying too hard, reiterating the fear of getting old and losing relevancy a bit too much. It’s also pretty easy to imagine the cast could have just improvised the entire movie, creating more laugh-out-loud moments. Still, there’s no denying these women are entertaining to watch, and are speaking to an entire segment of population that is too often neglected onscreen. It’s time to get your squad together, as big or as little as it may be, grab a few bottles of wine, park your pooter, and enjoy.
4 out of 5 stars
*streaming now on Netflix