Thursday, May 16, 2019
Gen-X Watch: Wine Country (2019)
I wish I'd disliked this movie enough so that I could have a spoofy title to the post like "Whine Country" to tag onto Wine Country (2019). I guarantee you, some bright-eyed reviewer has used it out there somewhere. After all the film is about a bunch of upper-middle class to upper class women coming together to go through the entirely predictable steps of a "girls weekend"/ reunion film and all of the weirdly specific predictable beats (despite the fact that reunion movies are not my jam) that fall out.
People be having lives that are more complicated than when you're 21 working for minimum wage, y'all.
I am only tangentially in the demographic for this movie, and so I don't want to throw too many stones. Gen-X, yeah. White wine guzzling lady over 40: no. The film is a harmless, kinda sweet, kinda obvious flick, and very clearly a-paid-working-vacation for Friends of Amy Poehler. There's always a danger when it comes to hearing vacation stories about a bunch of people you don't know as they hang around California's lovely (and luxurious) wineries and boutiquey resorts, playing roughly a version of themselves (the alternate dimension one that is not in showbiz, which they kinda almost acknowledge "in movie").
And, frankly, that's part of the problem. The movie relies entirely on the natural gifts of its terribly talented cast, but almost assumes the characters are so archetypal or familiar you don't need to know more than "what's their deal they're gonna work through?" to have a character. And none of the baggage that each character needs to grapple with is actual conflict. It's just... stuff that is either going to actually come to a head and get worked on at home and not on a girls' weekend, and thus doesn't get resolved so much as acknowledged (and is questionably of any dramatic interest).
And I think that's the point? The girl friends hold back on their messes until they don't, and their friends accept them and they have another glass of wine. So - you know, basically when you spend more than an hour with someone, get past the small talk and actually catch up. Which... is questionable as movie stuff.
There's one scene in the movie that I felt could have been straight up cut, and that was when the cast goes to an art show and is confronted with a gaggle of twitter-ific Millennial artists and art enthusiasts. I have no idea what that scene was for, and clearly it was intended to say something - but can't bring itself in the movie's sun-soaked twee-ness to just say that maybe these kids are full of shit (but so are any gathering of folks in art galleries in any generation. It's okay.). I will say - I well remember the 1980's and 1990's and being a young person seeing co-option of media figures from the 50's - 70's into art (Elvis and Marilyn Monroe were favorites) - so seeing Fran Drescher's Fran Fine of "The Nanny" co-opted, misinterpreted and given subtext that was never there (while missing the subtext that was there) is kinda eye-opening.
But I'm not sure that's what that scene was about, so much as it felt like Poehler and Co. misinterpreting the modern flavor of pretentiousness for young people containing a kind of boldness they admire? Maybe? Except the kids seem like a bunch of dumb dicks saying the dumb-dick things people say about meaningless art..? I get not wanting to punch down, but I'm still thinking about that scene and that it didn't work... and look how much space this took up in a review I was trying to keep short.
Still, it IS a great cast, and they're entertaining enough to watch. Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph, Paula Pell, Emily Spivery, Tina Fey, Maya Erskine, Jason Schwartzman, Cherry Jones and a few more (it's a small cast). Pell is having a curious (and well deserved) rise from writer to on-camera talent - she's got a great energy and you can see why people wanted to shove her in front of a camera. They're naturally all great talents, hilarious and engaging, and that's... more or less really what the movie offers. We get to see why Poehler likes her friends, I guess.
If you were going to get a movie about what happens to Gen-X'ers as they get older (and I find it weird, frankly, that only one or two characters are apparently moms by age 50 - and I have no children at 44) - this isn't awful. It's no Big Chill. But I'm not sure what a Gen-X reunion movie even looks like without someone thinking they need to remind everyone of "remember when The Fresh Prince was on?", and that "weren't the 90's... a thing that happened?".
The movie is directed by Poehler, whom I hope is looking toward doing more projects. She's got an eye, and a point of view. But I'd also like to see her get out of her own head and the safe space where no one is called an asshole in her movies and challenge both herself and her cast a bit more. It feels like there could have been more to the film other than re-assurance that friends are a good idea, as is wine. And being a tourist and kind of a jackass because you paid to be somewhere is hilarious - because that is absolutely a re-occurring theme.