There will be wine, laughs and the airing of old grievances in “Wine Country,” a light, breezy directorial debut by Amy Poehler, who also produced, worked on the story and co-stars with fellow “Saturday Night Live” alumni. The rudimentary nature of the plot yields a perhaps inevitably episodic feel, leaving fun individual moments, but a movie that’s a few bottles short of a case.
While the concept owes an obvious debt to “Bridesmaids” and the various copycats that unleashed, the distinguishing characteristic here is that the half-dozen characters are at a somewhat different stage of life – one where their girls weekend is built around celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday.
As a consequence, the gang is pivoting toward more middle-aged concerns, such as how recreational drugs might interact with the various prescription pharmaceuticals in their travel bags, providing evidence of the distance between their care-free 20s and the oft-repeated refrain, “Things we say now.”
All of the characters fall into quickly identifiable types, with Poehler’s Abby the divorced organizer who plans out the entire Napa Valley weekend on a strict itinerary, Maya Rudolph as the harried mom experiencing a bit of a midlife crisis, and Ana Gasteyer as the workaholic who can’t stop dictating messages into her phone.
’Hugging and learning’
Rounding out the group are birthday gal Rebecca (Rachel Dratch), who’s oblivious to the fact nobody likes her husband; Jenny (Emily Spivey, another “SNL” alum who also co-wrote the script), who would prefer staying at home; and Val (Paula Pell), who would like to find a girlfriend.
The group rents a house owned by the eccentric Tammy (Poehler’s former “Weekend Update” partner Tina Fey), who snarkily anticipates that there will be baring of souls once the vino starts flowing.
The women resent the inference but eventually get around to doing just that, after boozy renditions of a lot of old songs (ranging from the Bangles and Prince to the “Xanadu” soundtrack); a slightly unsettling session with a tarot card reader (Cherry Jones); and an unscheduled trip to an art show, which mostly creates an excuse to grouse about pampered Millennials.
There is a fertile vein within the questions of how friendships evolve over time, especially as people age from the intense experiences that bring them together in their college and post-college years.
Precisely because that’s such a familiar, well-worn trope, the movie’s best parts come out of the easy camaraderie that the actresses exhibit, augmented by random insults, wine-soaked confessions and references to experiences and the music that these women shared, as opposed to what “Seinfeld” might call the “hugging and learning” material.
Although the film is receiving a limited theatrical release in addition to hitting Netflix, those in the market for this sort of low-key exercise could easily file it under “Things we stream now when we stay home on the weekends.” Consumed that way, “Wine Country’” goes down like a decent pinot grigio – something that might not be a medal winner, but which isn’t half bad.
“Wine Country” premieres in select theaters on May 8 and May 10 on Netflix.