“Wine Country” Review: A Hilarious Punch Drunk Gal Pal Comedy With a Lesbian BFF

Amy Poehler’s new Netflix film, Wine Country, is, on the surface, a comedy about a bunch of SNL alums — Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Paula Pell, Tina Fey — visiting Napa Valley to celebrate Dratch’s character’s 50th birthday and their shared ascent into midlife. But unlike basically every other drunken comedy ever made, this one has experiences of womanhood baked into every layer. There’s no missing teeth, no tigers in the bathroom or chickens in the living room, no babies in the closet, no Mike Tyson. There are, however, knee replacements and divorce and loneliness and failing careers and workaholism and happy kids and crappy husbands and medical scares.

These women, who met when they were servers at a Chicago pizza joint in their early 20s, know each other so well, and rub up against each other in such a way, and have been dealing (and not dealing) with so many real life things they didn’t want to discuss over thousands of miles in group texts and Facebook chats, they slowly start to come undone when they get back together. Gasteyer’s Catherine is a super successful chef and entrepreneur. Rudolph’s Naomi is a happily married mom and wife with a voicemail from her doctor she can’t bring herself to listen to. Poehler’s Abby is a grizzled Leslie Knope. Dratch’s Rebecca is a therapist with a husband everyone hates. And Pell’s Val is a lesbian antique shop owner from Portland with a new set of knees and thirst for love. I’ll just let you enjoy Tina Fey’s character revelation on your own.

It’s all wine and good times and inside jokes and singing and flirting (by Val with a server named Jade) on their first night in Napa, but when Cherry Jones shows up to give an inspired performance as an erratic, misanthropic tarot reader during their Saturday hangover, things take a turn for testy. The more vineyards they visit, the more wine they drink, the more they individually unravel; and then begins their collective cracking.

Wine Country isn’t just womanhood and women’s friendships; it’s specifically middle age womanhood and friendships. One of the best scenes in the movie finds the gang at Jade’s art show. They’re drunk and surrounded by 20-year-olds talking about “context within context,” and how they should be invited to participate in the conversation without even a bare minimum understanding of the subject, and for sure what they should be feeling from all art is offended; and the whole thing just melts down into a hilarious generational confrontation where everyone ends up looking bad and Val tries to make the millennials understand where they’re coming from by explaining how, when she was a youth, she used to have to drive miles and miles to get her hands on lesbo porn, and now it’s so accessible!

These women aren’t just united by their shared experiences; they’re also united by the fact that they, you know, watch TV shows on TVs. And that they know what TV shows are.

I was thinking as I watched Wine Country about the last month of my own personal life. I was thinking about how my right breast looks like someone bit down on it really, really hard — no, wait, stay with me. My right breast looks like someone bit down on it really, really hard because last week I spent an entire day at the Dubin Breast Center at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan having mammogram after mammogram and ultrasound after ultrasound and then an MRI and then a biopsy to diagnosis one lump in my breast and another one in my armpit. I turned 40 in December and my mom had breast cancer when she was 38 and three weeks ago my annual breast screening for high risk patients ended in my doctor telling me they’d found a clearly defined nodule, an “area of real concern.”

The results of the biopsy were ultimately benign and all that’s left is this angry bite mark on my right breast. The weeks leading up to this bruise, though: I was keeping it together in every way, with everyone, except the women who make up the beating heart of my life. If I wasn’t shutting them down and out, I was lashing out, doubled down on an already unhealthy relationship to my work, looking for some kind of control anywhere.

That’s Wine Country. It’s improv funny and it’s physical comedy funny and it’s sight gag funny and it’s punny funny — and it’s a story about how sometimes our little personality quirks can only be distilled into their truest form and made manifest as our lurking anxieties and insecurities and maladaptive coping mechanisms when we’re in the company of the women who love us best and most. Because they’re the only ones willing or able to look past their hurt and annoyance and see our wildest hopes and raging fears, because they understand them, because they feel them too.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 855 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. Great review. This one and Tell it to the Bees on Amazon are going to be our lesbian double feature with tonight’s dinner. I feel for you about the biopsy..this 55 year old has been getting screened since her late thirties. And this past November was biopsy number two. It’s stressful but necessary. Vigilance is the greatest weapon.

  2. That’s a fun way to put it, someone bit down really hard on your boob. I like to refer to lumpectomy scar as my boob dent. Glad it’s benign though, getting those tests at the hospital feels like shit.

  3. Does nobody else have a problem with the fact that all the trans and gender variant characters in this movie are framed as “clueless millennial” stereotypes?? That other than Maya Rudolph, the only person of color with a speaking role is the “bad ridiculous artist” who is leading Val on? I was so surprised to see Jason Greene themself reduced to a one-line sight gag of a femme-looking person with a low voice.

    • Hmm. I didn’t read it that way at all. Firstly, I didn’t read Jade as leading Val on; more like Val was naively thirsty for someone half her age who was being friendly to her the way she’s probably friendly to all the Napa tourists who can afford her art. I also read the scene like these younger actors had been cast as what the Napa/San Fran Millennial queer art scene looks like, and then everyone — including the main cast — was reduced to stereotypes. Out-of-touch wine moms who don’t know how to use their phones vs. millennials whose main impulse re: art is to be offended by it. I do agree about the POC issue, though, which has long been a problem with SNL and therefore informs all post-SNL projects in perpetuity.

    • I have to agree. And I have to agree about the icky characterisation of people my age (ahem) as standing there looking at the evil clueless arty queer millennials like they had dropped out of space.

      It seemed ambiguous to me whether Jade was leading Val on, or if Val was so over-the-top clueless as to think such a significantly younger woman from a very different background would be interested in her. Yes, I’ve had a couple of large age-gap relationships, but we had much more in common than those two … and I was *careful*. Either way, that whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

      Yeah, there were some good jokes, I related to a fair amount – I’m off to see a knee surgeon next week, lol – and we need more movies about women’s friendships where they are genuinely trying to build each other up.

      But three out of 5 for this maybe? One point of that was seeing Tina Fey playing butch. Cherry Jones was hilarious. Speaking of large age-gap relationships, I’d line up for *her* (although she’s only 12 years older than me).

    • My fine arts college has its fair share of young people who speak and present themselves like those in the movie, which led me to sympathize with the wine moms in that scene.

      I also read Jade simply as someone who displays emotions that are more complex and ambiguous than what Val can handle.

      That said, I get how someone can see this as a reinforcer of negative stereotypes, especially when the audience have little exposure to said groups to think otherwise. The women behind Wine Country have expressed that they want to show more diversity onscreen and are eager to present more narratives, but I reckon they still have much to learn.

  4. Heather, so glad it turned out to be benign! I had a similar scare when I was 28 and held it together like my world depended on it, didn’t tell anyone, focused on my work, etc. You are not alone in your totally valid reaction. 🙂

  5. This one and Tell it to the Bees on Amazon are going to be our lesbian double feature with tonight’s dinner. I feel for you about the biopsy..this 55-year-old has been getting screened liquor decanters since her late thirties. And this past November was biopsy number two. It’s stressful but necessary. Vigilance is the greatest weapon

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.