Amy Poehler’s ‘Wine Country’ and the Joy of Movies That Are Just Fine
In defense of Amy Poehler’s new Netflix comedy, and movies that are extremely pleasant to watch because of the fact that they are just OK.
The thing about an OK glass of wine is that, sure it’s not the best, but it’s still going to make your day more enjoyable. You could even argue that it’s easier to enjoy because there’s no pressure to savor it or appreciate it or identify the notes of vanilla, green apple, and jasmine. You can just sip on it and feel your mood elevate. Wine Country is an OK glass of wine.
I don’t imagine that anyone was expecting the new film, which premieres on Netflix Friday, to be a $400 vintage merlot. Amy Poehler’s directorial debut, in which she co-stars with her Saturday Night Live friends Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Paula Pell, and Emily Spivey, on paper sounds probably like a familiar kind of broad, outrageous comedy—a drunken round of Slap the Bag more than a sift-and-smell tasting.
The actual film is somewhere in between. It’s not the mugging, high-concept, Will-Ferrell-circa-2005 comedy we’ve come to expect from SNL alums, nor is it the delicate balance of bawdy laughs and existential explorations of female friendship like Bridesmaids, though those comparisons are more apt.
Our references for movies in the genre are too few—Bridesmaids, Girls Trip, Book Club. So when Wine Country arrives with a tone this unexpected and unusual, it’s a little jarring. Centered around a weekend in which old friends reunite in Napa Valley to celebrate one of their 50th birthdays, the movie is more somber than silly and more impactful than hammy. In fact, when it goes for those big, SNL-style laughs is when it falters.
So instead of continuing to brace you for what Wine Country isn’t, here’s what it is: a solid entry in an undersung movie category. It is just fine. It is pleasant and amusing and just the right amount of provoking. In wine terms, it is one hour and 45 minutes of a steady buzz.
I love these kinds of movies! They’re your Armageddons, your 13 Going on 30s, your Friends With Benefits, your Castaways, your Sex and the City movies. The Help is one. Robocop is another. I wouldn’t be mad if Night at the Museum was on TV right now.
Some people think of them of as weekend movies, the ones that are on TBS on a Sunday afternoon and you like well enough to not bother changing the channel. Sometimes Just Fine Movies become cult favorites, like Mean Girls or Ghostbusters. Sometimes they’re unfairly maligned, like The Boss or Now You See Me. They are great movies, which is to say that they’re actually just OK, but there’s an unidentifiable kind of pleasantness to watching them that just doesn’t come with “excellent” movies.
They’re hard to describe, but you know one when you see one. Wine Country is a great example.
It’s fitting that Wine Country is premiering on Netflix (there is also a very limited theatrical release), as Netflix has become a connoisseur of the Just Fine Movie. It’s actually kind of their thing!
Those movies that everyone you know watches the same weekend and won’t shut up about? They’re not, like, “good,” are they? Bird Box, Set It Up, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Velvet Buzzsaw, Dumplin’: They span genres, and are extremely entertaining. But if you folded laundry while watching them, you probably wouldn’t miss much. Of course, Netflix has Roma and it has Private Life and it has Okja; it has excellence. But it does Just Fine better than anybody else.
It’s hard to review a Just Fine Movie, which probably explains why critics have been fairly mixed on Wine Country.
I’d certainly recommend Wine Country. I’d call out the fact that Amy Poehler delivers a tearful speech about white privilege, and that there’s a scene set at a millennial art show devoted to Fran Drescher, both of which had me rolling with laughter. I’d say that Paula Pell is a revelation in this, in that comedy folks probably knew Pell was hilarious already but this is a great mainstream showcase of that truth. I’d say that its depiction of evolving friendships as women enter mid-life is surprisingly sweet and poignant.
But get too much into the “film” of it all, and it might start to put you off, or give you the wrong impression. You should watch Wine Country. But don’t, like, think too much about it.
There’s this Hollywood rumor that Adam Sandler basically confirmed a few years ago that he essentially just made movies that were excuses for paid vacations with his friends. Some of those projects, like 50 First Dates or Grown Ups, are Just Fine Movies canon. More, they gave a spotlight to frequent Sandler collaborators like Rob Schneider, Kevin Nealon, and David Spade.
I’m not saying that Amy Poehler made Wine Country because she wanted to hang out with her friends in Napa Valley, but I wouldn’t be mad if she did. Amy Poehler’s friends are funny! So is a movie about her hanging out them. And because of it, we get to marvel over what great character actresses Paula Pell and Emily Spivey are.
That’s a crucial byproduct of these kinds of projects. Jennifer Lopez put her best friend Leah Remini in Second Act, and, brace yourselves, but I’d venture that Remini’s turn in that film was the comedic performance of last year. More friends having fun making movies together, please!
So join me in watching Wine Country this weekend. Invite some friends over. Drink some wine, duh. You can even talk through it without someone feeling like they have to shush you. How great! Cheers.