“This one’s good, what’s it called again?”
“Freakin’ LOVE it.”
Netflix and chill? Great. Netflix and wine and chill? Even better. Wine Country on Netflix and wine and chill? It makes for a nice evening. You may get a good laugh watching Wine Country, but you’re not going to learn a damned thing about wine.
“Ugh. I do not want to learn about wine on this trip!” declares Emily Spivey’s character, Jenny. Don’t worry, Jenny. You won’t.
Amy Poehler makes her feature film directorial debut with Netflix’s release of Wine Country this month. The movie chronicles a weekend getaway to Napa where six women are celebrating the 50th birthday of one of their besties, Rebecca, who is played by one of Poehler’s Saturday Night Live castmates, Rachel Dratch. It stars Ms. Poehler as Abby, the neurotic organizer of the occasion. Think Leslie Knope, Poehler’s character from Parks and Recreation, but with more unoaked desperation. And it is loosely based on an actual trip Poehler took to Napa to celebrate Dratch’s actual 50th birthday. The original trip included famous friends and SNL alumnae — Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer and writer Paula Pell, who all star in the movie, plus Spivey and Liz Cackowski, who both co-wrote the script with Poehler.
When I heard about the movie, I was excited because A) I love wine, and B) it’s been 15 years since the last big wine comedy — Sideways. With Sideways you can have a laugh and, if you’re paying attention, you can learn a few things about wine at the same time. Sideways is legendary in the minds of actual wine purveyors because one line ruined a small segment of the wine world. Paul Giamatti’s exclamation “I am NOT drinking any fucking MERLOT!” One somewhat spurious study by Vineyard Financial Associates claims that Sideways cost Merlot growers $400M in lost revenue. The irony is that, in the book Sideways, it’s clear that the character doesn’t want to drink merlot because it reminds him of his ex-wife, not because there is anything wrong with the grape. And the irony in the movie version is that Giamatti is desperation-drinking merlot out of a styrofoam cup at the end of the movie. It’s a 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc, if you’re keeping score. But with the new movie Wine Country, as Spivey’s character hints, you’re not going to learn anything about wine. But that is not the failure with this movie. I am.
I had a GREAT idea when I saw the movie was about to be released. I would woo Netflix with a double-whammy interview pitch: Amy Poehler with Monte for both radio AND the wine column in the Valley Advocate.
But after a very cordial and seemingly hopeful correspondence with a Netflix publicist, Amy turned me down. Failure. This is even after I shamelessly, and not so nonchalantly (so I guess chalantly?), mentioned the fact that I kind-of, ever-so-slightly know Nick Offerman — Amy’s Parks and Rec and Making It buddy. Still nada. However, Netflix was kind enough to furnish me with some Amy Poehler quotes about the two weeks in Napa they took to shoot the movie.
“These wineries are very impressive places to shoot. We had scouted just a few months after the fires and met some wonderful local people who were excited about the business that we were hoping to bring them. And then, we also had beautiful wineries like Arteza and Quintessa and Balducci. I was the only one that didn’t drink the whole movie. I was on personal lockdown. But there was some good times to be had, for sure.”
But in the movie, it’s not all good times with the women in Napa. When Ana Gasteyer’s character, Catherine, proclaims to Tina Fey, “better get to the wine tasting!” Fey’s character, Tammy, warns, “If you or anybody else starts a sentence with ‘could I just say something,’ stop right there.” Fey’s Tammy acts as the hard-scrabble camp-counselor type, renting her house for the women’s weekend. She senses things might start to get ugly. “Whatever the person said is probably what they always felt, and the alcohol just let it out.”
These years, long friends are facing a weekend of wine blended with job loss, loneliness, a cancer scare, unhappy marriages and a dread of growing older, and a fantastic Pretenders/Bangles/Prince heavy soundtrack.
Poehler said to someone (who wasn’t me) “We just started talking about how fun it would be to make a film about female friendship based on our real friendship … It’s a comedy about women who know each other well, who dive into the deep end very often with each other emotionally, who are all going through things separately. And discover they’re not really connecting in the way they used to.”
What’s refreshing about this movie is it doesn’t fall into some of the dreaded tropes of other large female ensemble movies. Poehler also explains (to someone who is not me.)
“There are so many pieces of film and television that portray women as disconnected and divided. They want the same guy or are fighting for the same job. And that’s just not my experience with the women that I know. I’m around really, really complicated, deep, interesting, hilarious women who tell jokes. We just wanted to show that … the film is kind of a long conversation.”
The film is a very funny long conversation. I belly laughed practically every time Maya Rudolph opened her mouth.
Another thing I love about the movie is it fails the Reverse-Bechdel Test (copyright 2019-Monte Belmonte). The Bechdel Test has to (1), have at least two women in it (2), who talk to each other about (3), something besides a man. Jason Schwartzman plays an overzealous errand boy who assists the women during their weekend and who “comes with the house.” And Craig Cackowski plays a sommelier at a vineyard, but the two bros never talk. Reverse-Bechdel fail. Excellent!
I do love Cackowski’s scene about how no one can be wrong when describing wines, but chastises Dratch when she describes her chardonnay as smelling like “canned peaches … jasmine … and grapes.” It’s an experience anyone who’s encountered a true wine snob at a tasting can relate to.
But what we here in the Pioneer Valley can perhaps most relate to about this movie, set in Napa Valley, is all the hippie shit.
“You know you can heal your back with your mind?”
“You know that’s not true?”
Tina Fey’s character made her money making edible organic soap and then sold to Unilever when her husband died. Coulda happened here! They even hire a tarot card reader who makes them “smudge” the house with sage and starts the women down the path of exploring how deep their friendships go.
Since there was no information about wine to be sipped from Wine Country, it was the tarot card readers “sage” advice that I took most to heart:
“From one old lady to another, get over all of your shit. Because it’s later than you think. That will be $475 dollars.”
Tweet Monte Belmonte at @montebelmonte.