With a brilliant cast of comedians and writers – Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Jason Schwartzman, etc. – there was the chance that Wine Country could have been a sleeper hit. The plot was never going to blow me away but it had the potential for dry humour: a group of lifelong friends reunite on a booze-filled weekend in Napa (aka Wine Country) to celebrate the first 50th of the group. A sort of middle-aged Hangover felt likely.
Well, I was right about the plot; I'm not sure it could have been more paint-by-numbers. The characters suffer that fate, too. There's the workaholic chef, the career woman who's just been fired, the mum battling with fears of breast cancer, the lesbian, the one with insanely low self-esteem and borderline agoraphobia, and the birthday girl who's stuck in a pit of denial about both her age and her terrible marriage. Whilst each get a plot arc, none actually develop, apart from possibly the lesbian who appears to learn that she's too old for sexual fantasies and romance and should just give up 🤷♀️ I think they were going with the "be more selfish, not 100% selfless" but it does not actually come across that way.
Of course, they're all lying to each other about these insecurities and setbacks, which all then comes tumbling out in a wine-fuelled honesty session, but by the end of the film, they're all friends again. Like I said, paint-by-numbers. Which never really matters in a comedy if the humour lands, but unfortunately that just isn't the case with Wine Country. There are moments which are funny, but none are memorably so, and for the most part the jokes just feel middle-of-the-road and bland. They try subversion a few times, first with the "I've got MDMA!... But we're all old and sensible so, no thanks 😊" none-plot-point, then with the weird rant about Millenial/hipster culture, which just comes across as out of touch and a bit transphobic. At least the Millenials get a few good points in about sexual repression and anger/trust issues, but the swing at "young people" just feels dull and even misses its target by lampooning pretentious arts culture, which if anything feels more relevant to the 80s or 90s than modern times. The only genuinely fun part is the tarot card reader, who is effectively a talking deus ex machina, albeit a wonderfully played one. When the best bit of a film is the exposition hack, that's not a great sign.
Still, Wine Country isn't a terrible film. The direction and acting are all fine, the locations are decent, the insights feel real. It's just bland. Boring. Predictable. Not ideal associations for a comedy...