Wine Country looked great in the trailer Netflix initially released. The cast, which included Amy Poehler (who pulled double duty and directed as well) and Maya Rudolph, is fantastic and the film looked like a feel-good comedy about friendship and turning 50. Well, looks can be deceiving and often, even a phenomenal group of actresses starring in the same movie isn’t a guarantee it’ll be good. Wine Country is a movie you root for, secretly hoping it’ll be exactly what it says it will be, but it’s definitely missing an emotional core.
Having met while working at Antonio’s Pizza as teenagers, a group of friends–Abby (Amy Poehler), Naomi (Maya Rudolph), Catherine (Ana Gasteyer), Val (Paula Pell), and Jenny (Emily Spivey)–decide to head to beautiful Napa Valley in celebration of Rebecca’s (Rachel Dratch) 50th birthday. Obviously, there’s a lot of wine involved (this is not an exaggeration, they’re drinking and carrying wine glasses in every single scene), but honestly not much else happens even though the characters have a lot of backstory to pull from. Abby has made them a weekend-long itinerary because it’s the only thing she can control, Naomi is too scared to listen to a voicemail from her doctor, Catherine is afraid of being left out but spends the trip responding to phone calls and work emails, and Rebecca hasn’t acknowledged that she’s in a terrible marriage. That’s a lot of great material, but something’s off.
Essentially, the film lacks central conflict. Each of the women are going through their own personal issues, but one of the most underwhelming aspects of Wine Country is the lack of external tension and sincerity. Almost two hours are spent highlighting what, on a deeper level, might be real issues within the group, but writers Liz Cackowski and Emily Spivey decide to play them off as minor skirmishes instead. These women haven’t seen each other in years and they’re going through a lot, yet they aren’t allowed the space to bond and connect in any satisfying way. Instead of actively growing closer, they choose to withhold information from each other and when everything finally implodes, the following resolution is unearned. Wine Country isn’t willing to genuinely explore these women’s relationships and it creates an emotional disconnect as well as a lackluster buildup.
Simply put, the movie doesn’t have much heart and glosses over all of the characters’ development. Conflict is foreshadowed by way of a tarot card reader (meant mostly for laughs), but it only leads to a lot of contrived drama. There’s a random scene when the ladies head to an art show hosted by Jade (Maya Erskine), a young waitress and rising artist. Val is interested in her romantically, but the visit turns into an awkward generational throwdown. Most likely meant to highlight how out of sorts the women feel about growing older and where they’re at in their lives, the scene only serves as an unnecessary addition to an already aimless film.
The cast, of course, is fantastic, but they’re better than what the material provides them. Still, they work with it, even when the film is hard to get through. I’m not sure what better way to say it, but the film just doesn’t have enough of anything to stand on its own. It’s a lot separate pieces that never come together, giving us an ending that is devoid of the sincerity it should have had. Wine Country had a lot of potential to be a wonderful film about friendship and facing hardships together (please watch Girls Trip for reference), but it’s largely uninteresting and ultimately disappointing for a film boasting so much talent.