Film Review: “Wine Country” (2019)

IMHO, any film that has both Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in it is worthy of celebration. So, when I heard that Wine Country had both of them in it, and that it had been directed by Poehler, I was thrilled. I read the criticisms of the film that said that it didn’t land as firmly as some might have wished, but I decided to watch it anyway.

And I did not regret it. The film is full of humour, warmth, and girl-power. What else could you ask for?

The film follows a group of female friends as they reunite for a celebration of Rebecca’s (Rachel Dratch) birthday. Each of them has a bit of baggage–emotional and otherwise–that they’re not really dealing with, and this ultimately creates the very friction and negative emotions the weekend is supposed to ameliorate. Through the ups and downs of the weekend, however, they ultimately discover that the strength of their collective friendship gives them what they need to endure all that life throws at them.

There’s a warmth at the heart of Wine Country that is in woefully short supply these days, either in the real world or in popular culture. So much comedy (and virtually all drama) is deeply cynical and always laced with at least a trace amount of venom. And, of course, our politics is about as toxic as it is possible to be. In the film, however, it’s always clear that these women truly love one another, and it’s worth pointing out that, with the exception of Jason Schwartzman–who turns in a solidly funny performance–the women run the show. There is, thankfully, no soggy romance plot to wade through, and while there are no real surprises in the plot, there are many genuine laughs throughout the film.

Despite its rather formulaic plot, there are some notable surprises. For one thing, Poehler gets to play it (mostly) straight for most of the film, and there is a resonance to her plight (she’s lost her job) that plays as sincere. And, perhaps most surprisingly, it’s Rachel Dratch who threatens to steal the show. I’ve long felt that she was one of the most underappreciated female comedians of her generation, and it’s a welcome change to see a film finally shine a spotlight on her considerable talents.

The rest of the cast is uniformly good, of course. You can always count on both Ana Gasteyer and Maya Rudolph can always be counted on; indeed, their feuding is one of the film’s central conflicts and its contours and resolution read as eminently believable. And both Emily Spivey (as Jenny, a shut-in with anxiety issues) and Paula Pell (as the lascivious and bawdy lesbian Val) delivered some of the downright funniest lines in the film. Of course, no review would be complete without mentioning Tina Fey who, like Poehler, turns in a relatively restrained and straight performance as Tammy, the owner of the bed and breakfast the women are staying in.

For me, the bottom line is that this is still a film about a group of women and their contentious but deeply-rooted friendship and love for one another. To my mind, the lukewarm critical reception the film has received revels a great deal about how we view women in comedy. Rather than embracing it as simply a good, simple comedy, there seems to be the sense that we can’t allow these women to just be ordinary. Once again, it seems to me, women are asked to bear the burden of what we as audiences and critics think they should be rather than what they are trying to be. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ghostbusters, which suffered similarly lukewarm reviews because, I’m convinced, critics just weren’t willing to give it any slack.

So, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Wine Country is a great film, it is a good film, with solid acting and solid writing. When the end credits roll, you feel good about the world and about what women can do when they embrace their collective strength in one another.

And sometimes, in my opinion, that’s good enough.

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