‘Wine Country’: Sweet and expressive, but with some earthy notes

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Former “Saturday Night Live” castmates Amy Poehler (left) and Maya Rudolph raise a glass in “Wine Country.” | Netflix

One of the things I love about the women of “Wine Country” is they’re hardly oenophiles — and they’d probably make fun of anyone using such a fancy term.

Oh sure, they love DRINKING wine; after all, they’re having a getaway reunion in Napa Valley.

They just don’t have the patience to sit through pretentious lectures at wine tastings, not when there’s wine right in front of them for the drinking.

“There are no wrong answers,” says a sommelier at a tasting, asking the women to identify the notes of a particular vintage.

“Canned peaches?” comes the reply.

“Wrong,” says the sommelier.

Directed by and starring Amy Poehler, featuring a Mount Rushmore of her fellow all-star “Saturday Night Live” alums including Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch and Maya Rudolph, the Netflix original film “Wine Country” is a gorgeously photographed, sharply written, sly and sweet and funny comfort-friendship movie filled with genuine laughs and real heart.

Some of sight gags and set pieces work beautifully. Others outstay their welcome and feel a little flat. Mostly, though, we’re left wishing we could spend more time with these flawed but fantastic women in their 40s and 50s who remind of us of ourselves as well as our sisters, our mothers, our friends, our wives, our colleagues.

The cool ones, who are still cool even though they’ve longed stopped trying to be cool or (for the most part) caring if anyone thinks they’re cool.

And yes, it’ll put you in the mood for a glass of wine or two. It’s the perfect Netflix-and-Spill film.

This is one of the gentler, nicer R-rated comedies you’ll ever see. Even when someone drops the f-bomb or brings out the Molly or hands out custom-selected sex toys, you can watch this one with mom or your favorite aunt and almost never slink in your seat.

Poehler’s Abby is a binder-loving, micro-scheduling, control freak cousin to her Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation.” She’s the type who allots a whole 20 minutes for “settling in” before the weekend activities begin.

Abby seizes upon the 50th birthday of Rebecca (Rachel Dratch), a therapist who doesn’t practice what she preaches in her own life, as the launching point for a reunion weekend in Napa for a half-dozen friends who bonded some 25 years earlier when they were all working as waitresses at a Chicago pizza joint named Antonio’s. (Nice way to acknowledge the Second City roots of many of the film’s players.)

Also along for the trip:

• Catherine (Ana Gasteyer), a successful entrepreneur tethered to her phone, awaiting word on whether she’ll be offered a judging role on a reality TV show.

• Naomi (Maya Rudolph), afraid to call her doctor back for test results.

• Jenny (Emily Spivey, who co-wrote the script), a homebody who dreads traveling and all that it entails. (She wishes she had never seen that TV segment where the blue light revealed all the stains on strangers’ bedding.)\

• Val (Paula Pell), who is gay and single and looking, and is a genuine people person who befriends everyone she meets.

(By the time Val’s ride share car arrives at Napa, she is sitting in the front seat and tells the driver, “I hope your sister succeeds in moving your mother’s grave, and I’m gonna try that manicotti recipe!”)

Rounding out the cast is Tina Fey as the wealthy widow who owns the breathtaking property in Napa where the women will be weekending, and shows up from time to time to offer some weird and unfiltered observations. (In her brief screen time, Fey scores as many laughs as just about anyone else in the cast.)

Tina Fey plays the owner of a luxurious Napa Valley estate in “Wine Country.” | Netflix

Tina Fey plays the owner of a luxurious Napa Valley estate in “Wine Country.” | Netflix

“Wine Country” is at its most charming and effective in the quieter moments, e.g., an exchange between Val and a hipster waitress named Jade who is recently single and might just have an instant crush on Val.

“You have a vintage store AND you live in Portland?” says Jade. “F— man, you’re officially the coolest person I know.”

“F— man, you should come to Portland,” replies Val. “There’s SO many of me.”

The predictable reunion-movie rollercoaster ride of emotions — bonding, reminiscing, confrontations, revelations — is punctuated by a number of sing-along and/or dance interludes and montages set to period-piece pop hits (“Eternal Flame,” “Kids in America,” “Poison,” “Bust a Move”), and some slapstick, stunt-double moments, e.g., the women take turns rolling down a steep hill for various reasons, and it’s dumb as a “Benny Hill” segment but I kept on laughing.

Whether they’re dancing and singing with sisterhood-affirming joy, confronting a group of infuriatingly self-confident millennials with a mixture of sarcasm and genuine affection, or admitting some tough truths to one another, if you saw this group of friends in a restaurant or at a wine tasting or walking down the street, you’d either feel grateful you have a similar crew, or you’d sure as heck wish you did.

‘Wine Country’


Netflix presents a film directed by Amy Poehler and written by Emily Spivey and Liz Cackowski. Rated R (for crude sexual content, language and some drug material). Running time: 103 minutes. Opens Friday at iPic South Barrington and on Netflix.

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