After years of running as an unabashed boys’ club, Saturday Night Live finally evolved into a showcase for a new generation of female cast members in the early aughts. Thanks to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, and Maya Rudolph, the increasingly tired show got a fresh, new spark of energy and wit that it hadn’t had in ages — and arguably hasn’t had since. Now, those same five women are reunited (joined by former SNL writers Emily Spivey and Paula Pell) for the new Netflix girls-trip comedy, Wine Country. And while it looks like they had a blast taking a working vacation to Napa Valley on someone else’s dime, the film that came out of it isn’t nearly as edgy, loose, or funny as you’d expect.
Dratch’s bromide-spouting therapist Rebecca is about to turn 50. So Poehler’s control-freak Abby has planned a getaway weekend for their crew of besties, who first met as minimum-wage employees at a Chicago pizza parlor back in the ‘90s. Since then, they’ve all gone their separate ways — Gasteyer’s Catherine is a driven businesswoman who can’t keep off her cell phone, Rudolph’s Naomi is a stressed-out mom ducking an urgent call from her doctor, Spivey’s Jenny is a joyless germaphobe, and Pell’s Val is a horny loose cannon on the prowl for a hook-up — but they’ve held onto one another as life lines and reminders of a more carefree chapter in their lives.
Written by Spivey and Liz Cackowski, and directed by Poehler, the film has a no-brainer comedy set-up but can’t seem to decide what to do with it. Does it want to be a rollicking Bridesmaids riot or something deeper — a midlife crisis meditation spiked with punchlines that make you think? I’ve seen it, and I still don’t know. I guess the answer is both…and neither. As you’d expect, the actresses have the easy, lived-in rapport of women who’ve known each other on- and off-screen forever, but the jokes (with only a few exceptions) feel lazy and lifeless. Meanwhile, Fey is totally wasted, occasionally popping by as the deadpan owner of their rental house without leaving much of an impression. Mostly, you’ll find yourself grinning in their company rather than involuntarily cracking up.
There’s plenty of drinking, bonding, and bickering. But none of the jokes feel as barbed-wire sharp as the material you know these brilliant comic actresses could have come up with if they tossed out the script and just ad-libbed. Wine Country’s message — and man, does it hammer it harder than it has to — is one of sisterhood, group-hug empathy, and hang-out fun. Too bad the film doesn’t measure up to the hilarity you’d expect from such a comedy dream team. C+