A wine-fueled weekend with Amy Poehler sure sounds like it would be fun, doesn’t it? You just know that if, in real life, you got to hang out with such a hilarious woman, she’d have you in stitches the whole time, and, if multiple hilarious ladies were there, too, it would surely be a laugh riot. Unfortunately they made a movie about just such a weekend, and it was not funny at all. The only joke in “Wine Country” is that they managed to avoid all laughs, sticking to the most obvious scenarios and gags at every turn.
After I watched “Wine Country,” I checked out a few other reviews, and I noticed a reluctance to admit that it was not funny. People, myself included, were in denial about what a disappointment it was. It would be easy to ignore as a piece of crap if Poehler and Tina Fey were not attached to it, but the fact that they couldn’t do more with this cast is mind boggling and vaguely upsetting. This is Poehler’s first time directing a movie, with a script by “Saturday Night Live” alums Emily Spivey and Liz Cackowski.
From the first minute, I got a sinking feeling. Five very different women, longtime best pals, are planning a birthday trip to Napa because one of them, played by Rachel Dratch, is turning 50. A group phone call laboriously introduces us to their characters, and it was so hackneyed as they declaimed their simplified personality traits that I nearly turned it right off. But surely once the story properly began, there would be time to develop.
There was time, but no development. Ana Gasteyer plays a workaholic, Poehler’s one characteristic is that she plans things too much, Dratch’s thing is that it’s her birthday but she doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it, Maya Rudolph has kids and is scared to call her doctor for some test results. Paula Pell plays a lesbian who just had knee-replacement surgery and Spivey didn’t even write herself a part beyond the fact that she plays someone who didn’t want to go on the trip. Telling?
The characters were so thinly drawn, a dude might as well have helmed this thing. Rudolph somehow manages a presence just because she is interesting to watch, but no other actor or scene rose to the occasion. We get characters literally rolling down a hill, some truly uninspired distribution of sex toys, utterly pedestrian drunk dialogue and, egregiously, singalongs that are meant to do far too much heavy comic lifting. There’s a shopping montage. It’s painful.
If a man had written this, I would have been offended. I might opine that, given the chance, women writers and directors could have dug so much deeper. Well, apparently not. In this case, the joke, and the sole joke of “Wine Country,” is on me. Kind of a bummer that equality in this case meant equal opportunity to be unrelentingly lame. As for the presumed eventual moments when the ladies got serious, faced their various hangups, addressed long-held resentments and whatnot? Anticlimactic in the extreme.
Appallingly devoid of humor, totally lacking in any good jokes, “Wine Country” was even light on the chemistry you would expect from an ensemble comedy comprised of real friends, based on real trips they had really taken. They somehow managed to save the good stuff for real life, because it did not come through on the screen. I was so excited to hear from these women, but then they had nothing to say. A disappointment like this from so much potential is more than just lame, it’s a crying shame.
“Wine Country” is currently streaming on Netflix
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