Wine Country, review: Amy Poehler’s gentle Netflix comedy is ultimately a blur

The premise of the film, also starring Tina Fey, reads like ‘Bridesmaids: The Later Years’

Ed Power
Wednesday 08 May 2019 13:48
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Wine Country official Netflix trailer

Dir: Amy Poehler. Starring: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey. Cert PG, 103 minutes.

Like dinner with old friends on a restaurant veranda, Wine Country whizzes by but is a bit of a blur even as you are sitting through it. Comedian chums Amy Poehler and Tina Fey reunite for this gently melancholic meditation on what it is to be a woman staring into midlife, with Poehler directing and starring and Fey doing her best to steal her scenes with an underwritten part as a weirdo Airbnb host.

For a comedy, it isn’t always funny and its portrayal of female friendship turned a bit soggy after the decades doesn’t ring consistently true (these supposed best mates can be horrifically judgemental of one another). But the Netflix film’s heart is ultimately in the right place and it has the courage to be positive where a more fatalistic movie might insist its characters wallow in the misery of their allegedly fading youth.

The premise reads like Bridesmaids: The Later Years. Poehler is Abby, a control freak organising a 50th birthday trip to Napa Valley for her best pal Rebecca (Fey and Poehler’s fellow Saturday Night Live alumna Rachel Dratch). Also coming along are exuberant Naomi (Maya Rudolph), careerist Catherine (Ana Gasteyer), lovelorn Val (Paula Pell) and terminally anxious Jenny (Emily Spivey, who co-wrote the script with Liz Cackowski).

They are, for people in early middle age, awfully clapped out. A scene in which Catherine tries to get them all to take ecstasy is an excuse for the assembled friends to catalogue the many, many medications they need to get through the day. And when they wind up at an art gallery crawling with millennials, they flinch from these strange, super-confident young people – all who appear to be aged 35 or so – as though they are from another planet.

Still, as a gentle, if never quite whimsical, study of how friendships creak and flex as we age, Wine Valley has its charms. Poehler, in her debut as director, doesn’t try too hard to impose a vision and the performances, which often feel improvised, have a breezy, off-the cuff energy.

There’s not much of a story and Jason Schwartzman’s stoner chef has apparently dropped in from a slightly wackier film. Also, some of the friends’ behaviour feels problematic, in particular the consistent bullying of Catherine for her workaholism and the grumbling about Rebecca’s schlubby husband (can you imagine an autumnal frat-comedy in which a posse of fiftysomething men endlessly disparage one of the character’s wives?).

Yet the 103 minutes amble by and Wine Country itself seems to have adopted rather a middle-aged outlook. It’s confident in its skin and if you don’t like it, really, that’s your problem.

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