Ask anyone who’s watched Saturday Night Live, and they can cite their favorite era. For some, it’s Adam Sandler and his songs, or Steve Martin and Martin Short being wild and crazy guys, or kooky Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader’s time. Personally, it was all about the late 90s/early ’00s time that belonged to the ladies: Rachel Dratch, Paula Pell, Ana Gasteyer, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph. Lucky for Netflix viewers, all those hilarious gals are back (with a ton of funny friends along with them) for a buddy vacation comedy set in Napa.
While there is a fictionalized plot about a group of girlfriends who met as young twenty-somethings working at a pizza parlor in Chicago and are now getting together to celebrate one of their 50th birthdays, truly the glory of the film is feeling like a fan getting to go on vacation with these talented women. They all have such a natural camaraderie and ease with each other that obviously adds to, but also transcends any fictional dramatic tensions placed on their characters.
Honestly, the least interesting parts of the film are when dramatic plot moments are shoe-horned into letting these ladies riff off each other. Unlike a film like Bridesmaids where it’s easier to escape into the fiction of the characters, Wine Country‘s strengths and weaknesses lie in the long term genuine affection and bond these actresses share with each other. The characters the women play feels superfluous to the film, and perhaps it might have been even more successful if it edged closer to a structure like the Steve Coogan film The Trip, where the women could have just played elevated versions of themselves traveling in wine country. But if the film had gone in that direction, audiences may have not been able to get such delightful cameos as Jason Schwartzman as a earthy, over-eager private chef (with an earnest energy that felt like a nostalgic jump back to his Rushmore years) or Maya Erskine as a self-serious young waitress/artist or Cherry Jones as a deadpan tarot card reader. Even the screenwriters, Liz Cackowski and Emily Spivey (both former SNL writers), make brilliant appearances, with the former as an uptight sommelier and the latter as one of the more negative, nervous gal pals.
Poehler herself directed the film, so above and below the line Wine Country feels like a film by and for female friends. While it certainly will be enjoyed by all fans of the actresses no matter their gender, it will hit a soft spot for longtime groups of girlfriends with relatable moments of conflicts. It will easily make viewers want to go from watching Netflix to scanning AirBnB looking for a Napa house to take a trip with their squad.
One of the biggest downsides to the film – with hope for perhaps a later release – is that there are no bloopers in the credits or post film. Because this crew of women are so hilarious and (while there are amazing moments of physical comedy) so much of the best humor is in the offhand joking around between them, it’s easy to wonder which brilliant lines were scripted or improvised. Here’s to hoping that they’ll release some cut footage and funny gaffs from the filming online because Wine Country definitely leaves you wanting to spend more time with this group. It’ll also leave you wondering why Cheri O’Teri didn’t get invited, either.