Some of the funniest scenes in “Wine Country” happen during the Napa Valley wine tasting tour as six friends, played by SNL alumnae Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey, and Amy Poehler, reunite to celebrate a 50th birthday. These ladies could care less about Cabernet Sauvignon being the King of wine country and Chardonnay its queen as they blow off the hoity-toity sommelier in mid-sentence to guzzle wine with a simple toast, “Hair of the dog!” Poehler makes her directorial debut with a script penned by former Saturday Night Live writers Liz Cackowski and Emily Spivey, both who appear in the film. There are a few misfires but with a cast like this, who cares?
Rachel Dratch plays Rebecca, a self-effacing therapist turning 50 who is ready to face the milestone without a lot of hoopla. That’s not happening thanks to her control-freak friend Abby (Amy Poehler) who’s planned a girls-trip to scenic Napa country, inviting their friends Catherine (Ana Gasteyer), a workaholic tethered to her smartphone, homebody Jenny (Emily Spivey) who hates to travel, worn-out mom Naomi (Maya Rudolph), and adulating lesbian Val (Paula Pell) who’s looking for a love connection. The close friends first met while waiting tables at Antonio’s Pizzeria in the 80s.
After a brief introduction to the film’s characters, we’re off to scenic California’s Napa Valley as Chrissie Hynde’s vocals and James Honeyman-Scott’s power chords on The Pretenders’ “Message of Love” signify we have arrived. Abby has rented a beautiful home overlooking the vineyards for the birthday celebration that comes complete with a quirky chef named Devon (Jason Schwartzman) who likes to massage dead cuttlefish before preparing the delicacy. Tina Fey is cast as the deadpan rental property owner Tammy who encourages the ladies to “drink a ton of wine” followed by “Remember whatever gets said is probably what the person has always felt, and the alcohol just let it out.”
There’s also an appearance by the wonderful Cherry Jones (“Boy Erased”) as a bleak tarot card reader in a very funny scene and Maya Erskine plays a part-time waitress and hipster artist named Jade who’s obsessed with Fran Drescher as The Nanny. Val zeroes in on Jade as a possible love interest after she receives a few compliments from the younger waitress.
For all the comedic talent in “Wine Country,” the film surprisingly hits a few roadblocks as the laughs dwindle between some very funny segments. As the alcohol brings personal issues to the surface, the close-knit friends struggle to keep it together but eventually, Poehler gravitates back to comedy as these funny women empower each other. Six middle-aged women and a never-ending supply of wine equal entertainment. Add this stellar cast and you can’t go wrong.
Premieres on Netflix this Friday, May 10