Wine Country (4 stars)

Wine Country

Amy Poehler's directorial debut is a funny, full-bodied comedy about turning 50

A group of female friends descend on Napa for a 50th birthday celebration in Amy Poehler's directorial debut. With their plans scheduled to death by Poehler's Abby, the stage is set for a long-weekend's worth of beautifully-executed, booze-fuelled comedy; egregious wine observations, unexplained beekeeping and ill-advised musical performances are all on the agenda, while the spectre of a slow-cook paella (courtesy of Jason Schwartzman's self-congratulatory chef/chauffeur Devon) simmers gently in the background.

The pals in question are former waitresses, now in midlife crisis mode. Joining Poehler are Maya Rudolph's Naomi and Rachel Dratch's birthday girl Rebecca, while Paula Pell, Ana Gasteyer and Emily Spivey round out the group. Happily reunited at the idyllic guesthouse of Tina Fey's Tammy, things quickly descend into a full-on nostalgia fest. Selecting the track-list for the first night's festivities, one character asserts, 'Nothing current. Not tonight.' However, as observed by a gloomy psychic (Cherry Jones), there's plenty going on under the harmonious surface: 'A lot of secrets. Many things unspoken,' she warns. While the weak wi-fi threatens to tip things over the edge. 'You're just going to have to talk to each other and drink wine,' notes Tammy. 'What could go wrong?'

Working with former Saturday Night Live pals and collaborators, including writers Liz Cackowski and Spivey, this is firmly in Poehler's comfort zone, with Abby's control-freak tendencies recalling her most famous comic creation, Parks and Recreations' Lesley Knope. However, the sight of this many forty and fiftysomething women onscreen – largely sans men – is a rare sight indeed, with the players bringing everything you'd expect from a cast of old(ish) pros. In a true ensemble piece, the women bounce brilliantly off each other, as everyone is handed their moment in the sun. The screenplay combines the predictable but satisfying (pops at American prescription drug culture, Rudolph attempting to channel the spirit of a piano-mounting Michelle Pfeiffer during a masterfully disastrous rendition of 'Eternal Flame') with the surreal (a late-night encounter with a family of raccoons, the rejuvenating power of new knees).

Glossy cinematography and a gorgeous setting make Wine Country as lovely to look at as it is hilarious. Meanwhile, as a director, Poehler keeps things tight and sprightly, tossing in the occasional flourish – the way she handles the world's most reluctant hook-up, for instance, is inspired. Given the balance and sensitivity it applies to its characters' midlife meltdowns, the script has a rather more one-dimensional, mean-spirited attitude towards millennials, but it's a rare note of misjudgement in a full-bodied, eminently quaffable comedy.

Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 10 May.

Wine Country

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 43min
  • Directed by: Amy Poehler
  • Cast: Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, Ana Gasteyer, Jason Schwartzmann
  • UK release: 10 May 2019

Abby (Poehler) organises a 50th birthday celebration for her friends (Rudolph, Dratch, Gasteyer etc.) at Tammy (Fey)'s guest house in Napa, but weak wi-fi forces them to talk to each other. Poehler's directorial debut is a beautifully executed booze-fuelled comedy balancing sensitivity and great ensemble playing with…

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