With a funny women-driven premise and talented comedic cast, everything about the Netflix original film “Wine Country” would seem destined to be a slam dunk. The idea of “Sideways” meets “Bridesmaids” must’ve sounded great on paper, but this blunder of a hybrid version isn’t sincere enough nor raunchy enough to be successful. Directed by and starring Amy Poehler, this story of a scenic Napa wine country getaway to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday is one of the very worst movies I’ve seen all year. It is a chore to sit through, and I couldn’t wait for it to end.
The friends fit into the same old neat little stereotype boxes that you’ve seen a zillion times before. There’s birthday girl Rebecca who’s trapped in an unhappy marriage (Rachel Dratch), workaholic Catherine (Ana Gasteyer) who stays glued to her cell phone the entire trip instead of letting loose and enjoying life and her friends, cheery Val (Paula Pell) who provides most of the comic relief because she’s not one of the skinny ones, homebody Jenny (Emily Spivey) who is little more than a body to fill in in the background, the type-A uber planner Abby (Poehler), and mom Naomi (Maya Rudolph) who is too afraid to call her doctor to find out the results of her breast cancer test. Learning about the characters in these vague, cookie-cutter descriptions actually provides enough information for you to figure out what happens in the story. It’s that basic.
I can’t stop lamenting what this film could’ve been. Instead of a celebration of decades of friendship and focusing on a group underrepresented on screen, the film takes the laziest route possible and gives us scene after scene of drinking and bickering. The comedic flops are downright agonizing, with a labored gag about cooking paella to the very worst: an extended bit at a millennial art show that I can only guess was included to show how “woke” these women are. There are so many scenes of the gals sitting in a van and singing along to 90s songs that you could walk away from the movie for twenty minutes, come back, and have missed nothing important to the plot. All of this feels like an excuse for Poehler to take her real-life friends along to Napa for a free trip.
The product placement is unintentionally funny here too, with every single bottle of onscreen wine being shown with its label out and facing the camera. (As my fellow vino aficionados can attest, most of the wines they’re drinking are total junk). There are plenty of stale scenes of the ladies sitting around drinking wine, getting “day drunk” at wineries, and bickering about the dumbest things, all under the guise of accepting your age, loving your friends, and questioning your future. Too bad the spiritless character development and flat script are so tedious that nothing advances the story.
As a frequent visitor to Napa Valley, it was disappointing to see the setting mostly ignored. There are a couple of scenes at wineries, but there could be so much more. At least the gorgeous vineyard landscape is presented in intermittent sweeping shots. The worst sin is that the film encourages bad behavior, as the women lack even the most basic wine tasting etiquette. Call me a snob if you must, but these are exactly the type of women and groups that winery workers have a major hostility towards — and so do fellow visitors. If you want to sit around and get drunk rather than take the time to learn about the wine you’re drinking, do it at home.
Glum rather than amusing, most of the intended jokes feel labored, forced, and thoroughly unfunny. It’s so bad that the lack of laughs, especially from a cast like this, is shocking. This should be a trip to wine country that you’d like to be invited to join, a festive, good time with your group of besties, not one where you’re ready to head back home after the first day.