This past weekend, on a whim, my husband and I watched “Wine Country” mainly because we both love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. We thought it would probably be a dramedy, and while it did have drama, it had very little in the way of humor. Considering that most of the Fey/Poehler SNL favorites were there, the lack of humor was a surprise.
“Wine Country” is directed by and stars Amy Poehler, with Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey and Tina Fey. The premise is a group of women who became friends in the ’90’s as waitresses at a Chicago pizza place get together in Napa Valley to celebrate Rachel Dratch’s character’s 50th birthday.
This is the type of premise I simply love – the big party or weekend getaway with friends. The classic of this genre (or would it be subgenre?) is of course, “The Big Chill” but many other movies with that premise have happened since then and I tend to watch them all. There’s something fun about watching a bunch of friends get together and love, laugh, and more often than not fight and resolve conflicts. Another great one of this type is “Peter’s Friends” with the always wonderful Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry as the titular Peter. I recommend it heartily.
Sadly, I cannot really recommend “Wine Country” with the same gusto. If I were to recommend it, I would be doing so in the “smell this, I think it’s rotten” kind of way because this movie was weird. And not great.
First of all, Maya Rudolph is one of those actresses who is always in everything – especially anything Amy Poehler or Tina Fey have a hand in – and I simply don’t find her funny. Her characters on SNL were annoying at best, and as someone who doesn’t care for improv, I have no idea why people keep casting her. When she’s in something I want to watch, I often simply change my mind and don’t bother. Her brand of funny is simply obnoxious or rambling.
Of course, her character is the most annoying one. She spends the entire movie avoiding getting her medical test results and then being maudlin and morbid about her theoretical illness. This behavior is believable but maddening. This is the type of thing that drove me crazy in my 20’s when a friend would be hysterical because of a missed period but hadn’t bothered to take a pregnancy test because they were scared. Hysteria with no supporting facts is just stupid drama for drama’s sake.
Yeah, let’s freak out about our imagination without any facts to support it. Let’s mire ourselves in uncertainty instead of simply finding out out if there is even a legitimate problem. So the ever annoying Maya Rudolph is made more annoying by her being one of those people who would rather ruin a weekend with friends than simply find out if there is any reason to actually be upset in the first place. And spoiler alert, this bitch is fine when her friends finally call her doc. Ugh. Just an entirely annoying subplot that was solved with a fucking phone call. Bleh. Meanwhile, her character mopes around and then talks for a long time to bore the crap out of anyone of watching. Why do people find this funny? I don’t get it.
Sadly, Maya Rudolph – usually the worst part of any ensemble – isn’t even the worst part of this weird ass movie. There are so many other things to hate here. Sadly, Tina Fey was not impressive either. She plays the owner of the airBNB where this friend group decides to stay. And honestly, I have no idea what she was going for with her character choices.
My husband and I debated this: Was she trying for a butch kind of character? Or was this her way of trying to play country/blue collar? Was she trying to be a male character? Other than being negative and warning the friend group not to listen to anything that starts off with “Can I just say something?” If this were a horror movie, she’d be the old man warning the kids that cabin was haunted. Only she was not believable as anything other than Tina Fey trying to do some character that wasn’t a good fit for her and that was actively uncomfortable to watch. When watching a movie, I don’t want to sit and think about what the actress was trying to achieve, I just want to watch her do it. So Tina Fey, usually a favorite, sucked mightily in this role.
That said, her telling the friends to eschew anything starting with “Can I just say something?” was prescient, because any time two friends are alone, they say this sentence and then trash another friend that is on the trip.
The next part of the movie I disliked was the tarot reader they hired to come and read for the group. First of all, as a professional tarot reader myself, I’m always interested in Hollywood depictions of this activity, mainly because I can critique the ways they get it wrong and occasionally say, hooray, they got it right.
Right off the bat, this tarot reader was just an unfriendly bitch. Her goal seemed to be to destroy the friend group or at least sow strife. Her readings consisted of her turning over a card for each person – and the way this was done was shoddy, too. Instead of re-shuffling the deck for every person, she merely laid one card for each person leaving the old card on the table to be covered up by the next card. You know, sometimes more than one person is a group is dealing with the issues of the same card. Ugh, bad tarot reader.
The only thing interesting about her way of reading tarot was the cards themselves, which looked like the regular Rider-Waite-Smith, but with shiny gold looking parts on the cards themselves. If this deck exists in the real world and wasn’t just created for the movie, I really want it.
Anyway, at the end of what was basically a total of a 5 minutes reading for the entire group, she charges them $475. Other than giving the characters a common enemy and foretelling fights between them yet to come, which was already done by the awful farmer character of Tina Fey’s, this scene just served to outrage.
No matter how they are portrayed in the media, tarot readers always come off as shitty stereotypes. It’s annoying.
This movie was just bizarre in so many ways. After they fight with each other they roll down a very large hill and that is supposed to be cathartic, although god knows why. It made little to no sense. I’m not saying that I’ve never been drunk with my girlfriends and gone along with stupid shit that was nonsensical, but there is at least somewhat of a rationale in our minds. This was just “we need to end the movie so let’s roll down a hill.”
The group is in wine country but doesn’t want to learn anything about wines, so they actually come off as pretty rude to those working in the wineries. I live very close to dozens of wineries and have been to many of them. They aren’t trying to make you learn about wines, they are telling what the wines are like while you taste them so you can decide what you like best. Maybe the Napa Valley is different, but once you buy the bottle, they tend to wait on the next person as even on slow days, there is usually somebody waiting.
That said, even if someone is trying to teach you about wine, being rude bitches isn’t really a good way to go. The characters – who will piss you off in their actions, pretty much all of them – go to an organic winery, and the woman there is very pretentious about her wine, which basically has a ton of sediment in it “because it’s organic” and instead of storing the wine with ice or fridges, they keep in cool by keeping it in the dirt. Ok, annoying, yes, but then you just leave the dirt wine place. The one rule of this winery was not to walk in the vines, a rule they all broke pretty much immediately.
I get it, the lady was pretentious and annoyingly happy with her wine and herself (for shame! how horrible that she likes her own winery!) but to break the rules of a place you are visiting isn’t just shitty behavior, it’s tacky as hell, too. They of course cop an attitude with the woman – who nicely but passive aggressively tells them to get out of the vineyard itself – and are pretty rude about leaving and have no remorse for breaking the one rule given to them.
They were all just so crappy as humans.
There were things the movie got right about female friendships – when women hang out together and drink wine, yes, we will break into song at any opportunity. We will play music and dance and sing along to it and laugh our asses off doing so. They did this portion of things really well, even having a very intense conversation about what music to put on their playlist.
Much of the interactions and hanging out was very well done in that it did resonate for me as I’ve seen that and done that. Even the weird resentments and infighting were accurate to the experience, in my opinion. The other part that was mostly well done, was Rachel Dratch’s character is married to Brian, an asshole every single woman hates. The movie has a lot of fun with them bashing him but not in front of Dratch’s character until the very end when she realizes she is in a crappy marriage.
This bashing of the asshole male screwing up a friend’s life is something I think is universal to most if not all women. We have all had that friend who is with a worthless scumbag and we have all puzzled over it, I’m sure. This echoes that perfectly.
The other thing this movie does well is the way arguments and tensions are diffused in a friend group – sometimes you are shitty to each other, there is silence, and then someone breaks the silence with a song, joke, laughter, or a non-sequitur and everyone latches on to it for tension breaking purposes.
My favorite character of the movie was Val, played by Paula Pell. Val flirts with a really cute waitress at dinner and thinks of having a fling with the girl. They go to see this girl’s art show because of Val’s crush. The entire art show was simply – to me – let’s bash millennials and what they like and make them out to be douche bags.
The art show itself was merely different depictions of Fran Drescher from “The Nanny” and was more than a little eye rolling. Meanwhile, Val’s crush acts as if her “art” is the most deep and resonant thing she’s ever seen. The girl comes off as pretentious and full of herself in the extreme, and of course, the friend group we’ve come to know and loathe go off on their millennial rant.
Dear movie makers, you come off as assholes when you portray millennials this way. Maybe stop it, because they are the ones who will be taking care of you in the nursing home. Yes, “we just don’t understand the uppity kids today” can be played for fun, but mostly it just comes off as older people being assholes about the younger generation. As Gen X, I’m really tired of the whole Baby Boomers versus Millennials thing and seeing Gen X’ers play into that trope is just gross, in poor taste, and more than that, BORING.
Normally, I would have shut off a movie like this after the first 10 minutes, but I hung in there for Poehler and because I wanted to see how they would depict female friendships. For my husband, he continued watching it because he felt the characters were so weirdly alien, that he kept watching, much like an anthropologist trying to make sense of their universe. When someone says, “I only finished it because…” you are not dealing with a great movie.
The one character I did identify with was Emily Spivey’s Jenny (no, not because I’m Jennifer) because she didn’t want to be there and when she called her husband she told him she wished the trip was 3 days shorter. “But it’s only for three days,” he replies, and yeah, exactly. Jenny normally is the one who is a no-show, and after seeing the weekend they all spent together I can totally see why. Spending a drunk weekend with back biting friends isn’t how most people want their time spent.
So all in all this was a weird movie, not really funny so much as dramatic-ish, and much in the way of making mountains out of molehills for all of the women in this group. So while it did have parts that anyone who has spent time with a group female friends will identify with and like, it was not a good movie. I’ve given it about a D+ and my husband gave it a thumbs down on Netflix.
I want you to watch it, so we can both agree that this movie does indeed smell bad.
P.S. For all female comedians – simply talking about you vagina in disgusting ways is no longer considered funny. You have to actually be making a joke, not just merely referencing your lady bits. There was a lot of humorous attempts at vagina jokes, but all of them were just boring and wtf inducing. Fart and poop humor isn’t funny, and putting a vagina into that type of joke is just annoying, gross, and not even remotely humorous.