So this is 50? Meh.
Lots of wine, personal crises dismissed or dealt with by your BFFs and a rigorous travel and “fun” timetable that would make Patton’s Third Army wince.
Amy Poehler‘s new Netflix comedy “Wine Country” is a distaff dance through California’s Napa Valley, just a bunch of female friends who came of age working together at a Chicago pizzeria decades before.
Just Amy and “Saturday Night Live” buds Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph and Ana Gasteyer, and writers turned actresses Paula Pell (“SNL,” “Sisters”) and Emily Spivey (“Parks & Rec.”), with a guest appearance by Tina Fey, drinking and bonding, wining and whining through showcase vineyards and Architectural Digest wineries.
It’s a little raunchy, a bit rude, occasionally funny and entirely predictable. But as Netflix time-killers for grownups go, it’s not half-bad. Or exactly half-bad.
Poehler plays Abby, who herds the five cats that are her best friends into a trip to celebrate their pal Rebecca’s 50th.
She’s booked the AirBnB, made all the reservations, printed the t-shirts and arranged a drone. She turned the itinerary into a glossy-covered booklet for all to study and stick to.
Lesbian gal pal Val (Pell) needs to “try out my new knees…I cannot WAIT to see all your guys and pinch your butts! With consent!”
Naomi (Rudolph) is trying just a little too hard, with her “Mama needs to rock out and whip her c–k out!”
Catherine (Gasteyer) is a pizza entrepreneur with a TV deal pending, entirely too cell-phone busy to be there.
Jenny (co-writer Spivey) has issues, but nothing like Abby’s, of which her C-PAP machine is but a symptom.
And Rebecca (Dratch) is a therapist trying to convince herself “age is just a number” and prone to over-compensating with psychobabble buzzwords (“feedback”) and catch phrases such as everybody’s favorite, denoting the aging process.
Every groan, admission of weakness or compromise is this “thing we say now.” Because, you know, they’re all 50 or getting there. Fifty may be the new thirty, but mileage counts, too.
Tina Fey is the flannel wearing butch AirBnB owner who mocks them mercilessly, if with a pang of empathy, as she leads them through the house, their “toxic jibber jabber” possibly re-directed by the house’s fire pit.
“Stare into the flames and contemplate why the hell you came up here in the first place.”
The formula is thus set. Some will look for love, or at least release. Most have secrets. Some are succeeding and others failing. And when you apply day long bus trips to various locales offering truth serum (wine) tastings, the ugly words describing how you REALLY feel will come out.
Jason Schwartzman shows up as a cook, chauffeur and bearded doofus who “comes with the house,” Cherry Jones makes a beautifully bitter Tarot card reader, ironically named Lady Sunshine.
The script has plenty of time for dance-offs and “DUI Songs,” their nickname for whatever they belt out when they’re drinking — tunes from their Chicago youth by The Bangles, Bel Biv Devoe and Kim Wilde.
“OK, let’s play ‘paths not taken.'”
They weep over their lost prince, Prince Rogers Nelson, confess to this or that, fall down and insult assorted windbag wine-tasting hosts.
“Jeez, people REALLY love to talk about wine around here!”
Rudolph lands the biggest laugh and there’s some fun riffing involving Naomi and each of the other characters. Fey shows up, sticks her jokes, and leaves, only to come back and stick another joke or three.
Pell has been around comedy writing for decades, and is gifted with some of the funnier lines here, which she handles with skill.
But too often, in too many scenes, the strain of it all shows. “Trying too hard” isn’t a cardinal sin in screen comedy, but it’s always a little off-putting when you witness how much effort is going into making piddling inconsequential moments pay off, necessary effort since so few big moments do.
“I feel like the universe is gently nudging you to CHILL.”
“Wine Country” is no “Sideways,” even if the contrived stakes are supposed to be greater. It’s built for a particular audience and some of the laughs will hit home for anybody who’s gotten that AARP “invitation” in the mail.
But Poehler’s film never crosses the tipping point of being worth 100 minutes of your time.
MPAA Rating: R for crude sexual content, language and some drug material
Cast: Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey, Jason Schwartzman, Maya Erskine and Tina Fey
Credits: Directed by Amy Poehler, Liz Cackowski, Emily Spivey A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:43