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Wine Country Review: Cheers to Amy Poehler's Netflix Comedy for Living Up to the Hype

A gal's trip to get drunk subverts the typical film in the genre

Jordan Hoffman

I don't have all the data in front of me, but I'm pretty sure Netflix's new comedy film Wine Country has the best rhinoceros joke I've ever heard in a movie.

Which is unexpected, because you'd think a movie about six women on a weekend trip at a rented Napa Valley house to celebrate their friend's 50th birthday would be one of those weepies about pent-up resentments that wouldn't have time to get weird. But Wine Country, directed by Amy Poehler and written by fellow Saturday Night Livealumni Emily Spivey and Liz Cackowski, finds a way to pop its cork and eat it, too. (It doesn't really eat cork, just go with me.) By slyly acknowledging the clichés of "this type of movie," it distances itself from them before diving in. More importantly, it clears space for its mega-talented performers to pour on the laughs. It's a very funny movie, and when it does get corny at the end you just let it slide because you like everyone so damn much.

Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph, Wine Country

Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph, Wine Country

Colleen Hayes

Rachel Dratch is Rebecca, the birthday girl, a therapist with a short fuse and a genuine slob for a husband. Organizing the trip is Poehler's Abby, a control freak who is newly divorced and unemployed. She also sleeps with a CPAP machine, so in addition to the bizarre rhino line I think we've got some of our first gags about obstructive sleep apnea, too.

Ana Gasteyer's Catherine is a successful woman who can't put her phone down, Paula Pell's Val is a big-hearted antique store owner searching for love, Maya Rudolph's Naomi is a frazzled mother of four keeping some medical troubles secret, and Spivey's Jenny is just an overall mess of anxiety. The rented home is owned by Tina Fey doing a spot-on Tig Notaro impression, and other faces pop up like Cherry Jones as a tarot card reader, Jason Schwartzman as a caretaker/driver/cook, and Liz Cackowski as one of the winery's hostesses. All are in fine form.

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More than anything else this film exudes good vibes. The characters are meant to be friends for 20-plus years (they all worked in a Chicago pizza joint in the '90s) and these actors have a genuine, lived-in chemistry. The scenes aren't improv-heavy riffs, but they take their time. The jokes (which grow into running gags) aren't punchline heavy, they roll in and out, just like real friends sitting around talking. If, you know, there were two clever screenwriters feeding them solid zingers.

While there are some typical crutches (like music interludes from The Pretenders, Kim Wilde, the Bangles, Bell Biv Devoe and the Xanadu soundtrack) there are also some howler set pieces. One winner is when Catherine cracks out a bag of MDMA. We've seen the sequence where characters cut loose on psychedelics before, but it's far more original for them to shut the whole thing down, realizing they don't know how the drug will mix with all the prescription meds they are on.

Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch; Wine Country

Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch; Wine Country

Colleen Hayes

But don't worry, they are all sloshed for a lot of the time (Rudolph wins the trophy for funniest drunk, hands down) and there is a marvelous motif of the ladies just not caring when the Napa Valley tour guides want to chew their ear off about viticulture. ("This is delicious, what's it called?" "White wine," is one of the better throwaway jests.) There's also the elephant in the room: that you never see a movie starring women in their late 40s/early 50s. It's a dead zone for representation until the wacky granny movies that come a decade or two later. Poehler and company are doing a great thing here, but watching this hardly feels like a homework assignment.

Fey's gruff landowner Tammy warns them up front that their weekend is doomed to devolve into speeches and the airing of grievances. (She offers a tip: If anyone opens with a "Can I just say something?," run!) She's right, of course, and there's a slapstick-heavy climax that is quite forced. But, honestly, sometimes clichés exist because they are true. Friends often do hold their tongues for years about big topics, and sometimes you need get things out there and hope the relationship is strong enough to persevere. Whether or not this a process that goes better with alcohol will forever be up for debate, but maybe Wine Country will inspire more honest talk out there. If not, it's still good for some laughs.

Wine Country premieres Friday, May 10 on Netflix.