Amy Poehler directs and leads comedy Wine Country, now streaming on Netflix, about a group of longtime pals celebrating a 50th birthday at many, many wineries.
A stellar cast can’t save this comedy from falling flat, writes Sarah Voon.
Usually, I love an ensemble comedy, being especially partial to co-cast member and first-time feature director Amy Poehler’s (of Parks and Recreation) particular blend of upbeat, dorky and deadpan. Six strong women (seven if you include Tina Fey—TINA FEY!) with serious comedy kudos between them promised me a tummy ache and sore cheeks from laughing hard. Instead, like a sneeze that never happens, I was wholly unsatisfied even though I kept searching for the light.
The not-unlikely premise of Wine Country—a group of 50-year-old (give or take) women on a wine-soaked girls weekend in the Napa Valley to celebrate their reluctant mate Rebecca’s (Rachel Dratch) 50th birthday—was appealing in its rare representation of this age and gender group. Unfortunately, the characters never develop from tedious stereotypes, with uber-organiser Abby (Poehler) pouring her frustration with losing her job into scheduling exhausting itineraries for the event, busy mum Naomi (Maya Rudolph) excited to get a break from her kids, and workaholic Catherine (Ana Gasteyer) who can’t relax and put her phone down. Raunchy smartass Val (Paula Pell) provides (almost) comic relief organising “Dickmas”—personality-matching dildo gifts—for all at a restaurant (cringe) and the least memorable character Jenny (Emily Spivey) who wasn’t going to turn up, but then did, surprising everyone. Hilarious.
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With Abby’s tight itinerary having everyone hopping from one chardonnay to the next on the party bus (featuring cute but repetitive singalongs), various beefs and conflicts arise eventually causing small implosions within the friendships. Tammy (Tina Fey) the widowed owner of their accommodation provides surly deadpan to all the girly antics, and Miss Sunshine (Cherry Jones) turns up as a kind of mean Tarot card reader, both performances causing me to question whether the casting could have benefitted from everyone swapping roles.
I’m the first person to endorse and admire women of any age letting loose with their friends, uncensored and with full joie de vivre, but if you’ve ever worked in hospitality you would understand the urge to call in sick if you knew this group was booked into your place of employ. The stellar cast couldn’t save this comedy from falling flat, culminating in a sadly missed opportunity.