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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Review: “Wine Country”

Amy Poehler’s directorial debut “Wine Country” isn’t as fun to watch as it was for the cast to make

Amy Poehler’s directorial debut “Wine Country,” released on Netflix on May 10, follows six old friends reuniting over a vacation in Napa Valley. With a cast of heavily-experienced comedians like Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey and Poehler herself, the film had the potential for greatness. The film’s tone is irregular and somber, however, focusing too much on the dark parts of aging rather than the funny aspects.

The cast all has roots in the 2000’s era of “Saturday Night Live.” Even SNL writers Paula Pell and Emily Spivey joined the on-screen cast in the film. The iconic bond between the women remains evident even 20 years later.

In the film, the group met in their early 20’s working for the pizza shack Antonio’s, a thinly-veiled metaphor for SNL. The chemistry and aspects of real friendship between the characters shines through the writing in what feels like many improvised moments. The group regularly breaks out into song and running gags representative of any group of people who have known each other for a very long time. And in that sense, the film is delightful.

“The episodic story — Spivey and Liz Cackowski wrote the script — tracks the women as they hang out, tour Napa, drink, laugh and cry. Repeat,” wrote Manohla Dargis in The New York Times. “The comedy is situational and confessional, the flat one-liners mixed in with more memorable physical comedy.”

Fans of Poehler may be a bit disappointed as the film does not feature as much of her usual charm and energy; however, the cast is undeniably hilarious and the other leading ladies shoulder the bulk of the humor. Poehler takes the sidelines to let Rudolph and Drach shine. Pell, as the loud and raunchy Val, also provides some of the biggest laughs in the film.

Despite a great cast with obvious chemistry, however, the storyline lacked both in terms of plot and a consistent tone. Sliding from emotional and sentimental moments to wild and drunken slapstick so quickly can give the viewer whiplash and the film struggled to flow naturally. While the relationships between the friends seem as old as time, the characters themselves are rather shallow and underdeveloped.

“The rudimentary nature of the plot yields a perhaps inevitably episodic feel, leaving fun individual moments, but a movie that’s a few bottles short of a case,” wrote Brian Lowry for CNN.

Since I was raised in Napa myself, I found the setting of the film particularly alluring. It was exciting to see my hometown portrayed as a sort of prestigious wonderland for adults. I recognized the backdrops and some of the wineries, which was nostalgic and exciting as well.

While some Napa locals found errors and inaccuracies in the portrayals of wine, for the average viewer, it’s fun to see your hometown portrayed in a film with some of the best female comedians of our time.

“The lush Napa Valley setting, with its storybook green hills and vineyards, becomes a surreal backdrop to all the nonsense and angst,” Sheri Linden wrote for the Hollywood Reporter. “As to the local viniculture, the characters, and the film itself, are not especially interested, except for the liberating/medicating effects of wine. Sommeliers and their oenophile spiels make for a couple of well-played scenes but are all-too-easy targets.”

Poking fun at the snobbiness of the wine industry may be an easy target, but the accuracy is still there.

“Jeez, people really like to talk about wine around here,” Poehler’s character Abbi complains early on into the film.

Wine puns aside, this seems to be the general notion about the film — it was nothing awe-inspiring or particularly unique, but enjoyable to watch for what it is: a typical Netflix original. It would have suffered at the box office, but provides a niche group of people who are avoiding homework or just have nothing better to do on a Saturday night with a casual but enjoyable viewing experience. It may not be worth the hassle of leaving the house or paying $10 for a movie ticket, but it will keep you entertained in bed.

Written By: Alyssa Ilsley — arts@theaggie.org


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