R, for general lewdness and offensiveness. It's a raunchy comedy, full of swearing and sexual innuendo. One of the women brings everyone sex toys. One of the characters consents to casual sex. While there is no nudity on screen, it does feel pretty skeezy at times. R.
DIRECTOR: Amy Poehler
I wanted to impress my wife, guys. I think I did too. It was low-key date night. We weren't going out, but I made a pretty solid dinner. We were both tired, so we put on Netflix, and low-and-behold! A comedy starring a whole bunch of ladies that we liked. Yeah, we watched it and, you know what? We enjoyed the heck out of it. One of my students watched it with her mom and my student didn't really care for it. I think I know why. This is a comedy for old people who just started being older.
If you like any of these actresses, you are in for a treat. Emily Spivey kind of fell on our radar with her work on Last Man on Earth and Up All Night. I've been a huge fan of Poehler since her UCB days (the television show. It's not like I'm hanging out in New York and catching underground shows). Maya Rudolph might be one of my favorite guest castings on any show. I know Paula Pell from something, but I don't know what. (I literally have an IMDB tab right next to this and I refuse to click because it will slow down the momentum I'm building up.) Ana Gasteyer has been missing in action lately, so it's good to see her in something that showcases how funny she is. And I'm going to say it: I think that Rachel Dratch is friends with everyone and finally gets a role where she's not playing a bit part. This combination of people is what I want out of a movie. It's actually completely shocking that all of these people aren't working together constantly because there's this chemistry that they have that makes you feel like you are hanging out with this group of old friends. There are moments in the film that might feel a little bit artificial, like "No one REALLY does that." But the charisma of the cast and the chemistry of the whole thing make these moments seem plausible. It's a lot of talent that can be found in Wine Country and I really adore when this kind of synergy happens. I'm not saying that these women can do anything and it would be gold, but I'm also really willing to watch and assume that it will be gold. Great comedies are hard to pull off. While Wine Country won't ever be at the top of my list, it does show that the Netflix model has real legs. Wine Country made me laugh harder than most of the stuff that I've been seeing lately. But this kind of brings me back to what my student said. She didn't care for it, but she thinks that her mom did. Raunchy comedies tend to aim themselves at a lucrative target market. I think most of the good stuff is probably aimed at the 18-25 share because tickets mean revenue. While twenty-somethings probably adore Netflix, it is also really appealing to an older audience. Most of the material aimed at an older market seems to be some lowest common denominator stuff. It tends to be fairly innocuous, picking at the low-hanging fruit. Parents can bring their kids to the movies and everyone can have a good time. But with Netflix being a fairly private viewing platform, I'm kind of glad to see something about aging being made.
The film is about turning 50. It's not just that, but I think that's a pretty central foundation to build it upon. The different women, all friends from long ago, have different problems that tend to remind them of harshness of the real world. Medical tests can mean not only fearing for one's own life, but how a family is going to function. Success has its stress. Failure has its stress. Sometimes, our bodies just hurt. Some of us have meaningful relationships. Some of us see no chance of coupling with others. Yeah, it's a big cast, but there's not a lot of overlap between the characters. All of these women have had different, yet challenging lives. It's hard to pinpoint who the central character is because of this. I want to default and give it to Amy Poehler's Abby. Poehler directed the film and Abby is pretty central to the events of the story. She was the one who organized the vacation. She's also the first one to really break down when things go slightly wrong. But Poehler isn't simply directing a single character arc. This is an ensemble film. The only one of the cast who really isn't fully developed is Emily Spivey's Jenny. There are things that are said about Jenny that don't really call back to any specific character stuff that we see. By the end of the film, I get the bare bones of Jenny's character, but nothing that would really elicit an emotional reaction or a personal attachment. The two characters I really latched onto were Rachel Dratch's Rebecca and Ana Gasteyer's Catherine. (I laughed most at Paula Pell's Val, but her arc was a little less nuanced than the rest of the characters.) Rebecca's fear of aging is a fun throughline for the whole story. She is constantly vocalizing how this party isn't for her birthday. I think I know too many people who hate having the attention on themselves. But Rebecca's comments on avoiding her birthday is the central theme throughout the story. Rebecca's physical collapse reflecting her emotional understanding of what it means to age is the focus of the story. All the characters are dealing with it in some way. Rebecca is just the only one who really doesn't understand that. I know, it's a bit tropey to have the therapist be the one in most denial. But it is her breakthrough that lets the story progress. They are in a dark place, supernatural or otherwise. It is upon her realization that this even is about her turning 50 that allows the resolution to begin. Just because one doesn't acknowledge a problem doesn't mean that it isn't there. Maybe it isn't just about aging, by that logic. Perhaps the entire piece is about denial.
The entire group is based on one time in these people's lives. They all worked at the same pizza place. All from different backgrounds and different philosophies, the characters in this movie hold the pizza place as something sacred. Everything on this trip, despite being in a completely different locale, is an attempt to make the past new again. (I'm sorry, Gatsby fans.) The harder they try to latch on to this one moment in time, the more it seems out of their grasps. The most impressive moment, at perhaps the most Leslie Knope moment, is when Abby recreates the pizza parlor in the middle of Napa Valley. Now, here's me. I wasn't even part of this group, despite the fact that I just claimed that I was. I look at this pizza parlor and I'm impressed. Even the characters seem impressed by what they are looking at. But it is at this moment that the character lose their minds. This is when all of the conflicts come to a head. Sure, there's tension before this moment. But the screaming and the accusations happen. I told you that I liked Ana Gasteyer's Catherine. Her character has probably the most moral ambiguity. I relate. Yeah, I'm not the workaholic that Catherine is. (Mind you, I assign myself an essay a day, so I can't be the healthiest when it comes to work). But she has a complex storyline. She loves working. It's not something that takes her away from happiness. It is her happiness. But she also has the vibe that no one wants to hang out with her. She is her own monster. Because she works so much, she thinks that people don't want to hang out with her. Because no one is hanging out with her, she gets more work in. The truth of the matter is that people do want to hang out with her, but she has removed herself from the situation. See, it's not necessarily just about aging. It's more of the denial that comes with life. I am convinced that people don't want to hang out with me. Like most people, I am absolutely certain that I'm the main character in everybody's life. When I'm not, I get really depressed. I get this movie. Geez, do I get this movie.
But is this movie deep? I tend to dig into the subtext of a piece. After all, I write all the words about every movie. I don't want to dismiss this as a dumb comedy. I honestly think that Wine Country is a movie with something to say. I get the idea that Poehler and her team have a very distinct message and crisis that they are addressing. But the movie handles it in a fun way. There's some absolutely absurd, almost inside jokes at times in the movie. But again, the movie has a way of welcoming in its audience. It provides a door to experience the in-jokes without pushing the nostalgia button too hard. And I keep circling back to my student. She didn't see much in this movie. Maybe she's right. But I also think that a lot of this movie is based on life experience and different forms of insecurities. Maybe the insecurities and self-esteem issues of adolescence don't really go away. Maybe they just transform into a state that we get used to. I don't think I woke up one day and was just convinced that life made sense. Wine Country is a reminder of the little things that really get under our skin everyday. As adults, I think we have a really hard time talking about things that really bother us. Today, I just indulged in carbs. It's what I did. I know that sounds like nothing, but that was a big deal for me. By typing this sentence, I remind myself of the constant privilege I'm afforded to write a sentence like that. The second we have things figured out and we abandon that arrested development of adolescence, our problems seem to exclusively become our problems. We expect our friends to be able to fix everything like they used to. But our friends, back in high school, had very similar problems to us. We now all have different baggage. I don't understand the baggage of my friends anymore. I have the luxury of standing back and seeing all of their solutions. But I also have a hard time kicking myself in the butt and figuring out how to deal with my emotional minefield at the same time. I know that this isn't something new, but I appreciate Poehler and her crew saying it in film. I like that. We all have our own junk and we should try to own it. Sure, I don't think I would make the same choices that the characters did. I am a very different person. But that's part of the story. The first step might just be acknowledging it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.