Amy Poehler’s ‘Wine Country’ movie delivers laughs, satire

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“Wine Country,” Amy Poehler’s new movie about six women sharing a vineyard getaway weekend, certainly toasts Napa Valley, where it is set and where many scenes were filmed last year.

But the irreverent, often acidic script also takes a few well-aimed shots at the arty pretensions and haughty snobbery that wine tourists sometimes encounter. Yet that didn’t keep the crowd of wine industry leaders and film buffs from laughing heartily Sunday at an invitation-only screening of the film in St. Helena.

The new Netflix film’s lavish visuals and loving look at Wine Country scenery, and celebration of the lifestyle, should be enough to salve the occasional sting of satire.

“We take Wine Country seriously, but sometimes it’s good to laugh at ourselves,” said Cathy Buck, owner of the Cameo Cinemas, where the film screened twice Sunday and opens Wednesday for a limited run.

“Wine Country” also opens Wednesday at Summerfield Cinemas in Santa Rosa and starts streaming Friday on Netflix.

Although the Sonoma County side of Wine Country isn’t mentioned in the film, the real-life vacation that inspired the film was reportedly taken by Poehler and other “Saturday Night Live” alumnae three years ago. That trip included excursions to both Napa and Sonoma venues, with visits to Sebastopol and Healdsburg.

“A lot of us are proud to have this film set in Napa Valley,” Whitney Haskin, Napa Valley Film Festival’s programming director, said Sunday at the Cameo Cinema. “It is so much more than just a setting in this film. It really is its own character.”

That character is portrayed with some hopefully endearing quirks intact:

A winery tasting bar host urges the women to make comments with the usual encouragement that “there are no wrong answers.” Then he rejects their answers.

Another host at a different winery persists in quizzing and lecturing the women about the chemistry of wine even after they make it clear they don’t care.

The tour guide driving an excursion bus continues reciting wine industry history even after the women start a singalong in the back of the bus.

Poehler, who directed the film, also stars as the ringleader of the weekend getaway for her friends to celebrate the birthday of one who is turning 50.

In scene after scene, Poehler and her companions actually show little interest in wine beyond getting drunk as quickly as possible.

Asked by one of her friends what they’re sampling at one of their stops, Poehler replies, “It’s white wine.”

Not all the humorous jibes are about wine. There’s the chef/houseboy/guide who uses a canoe paddle to stir his giant vat of paella, which apparently takes days to cook. And the tarot card reader who insults everyone. And the artist who bases a whole series of paintings on images from the old TV sitcom “The Nanny.”

The drunken late-night confessionals between the six friends — inevitable in buddy movies of any gender — are often funny and sometimes almost uncomfortably realistic. Tina Fey, as the cranky owner of the Napa Valley house Poehler rents, injects some dark humor.

The film’s cast did not attend Sunday’s screenings.

“I enjoyed the movie because there are some serious scenes,” Buck said. “It’s a wonderful story. You start with these women, each in their own realities.”

The screenplay, by Liz Cackowsi and Emily Spivey, packs in plenty of back story for each character: a lost job, a stale marriage, a frustrated romance, a looming career decision, dreaded impending results from a medical test and midlife loneliness.

For the leadership of the Napa Valley Film Festival, which hosted the weekend preview screenings, preceded by a tasting room reception a few doors away, the “Wine Country” movie fits in nicely as part of an ongoing Napa Valley culture that celebrates wine, fine dining, beautiful scenery and film.

While Napa Valley has served as a setting for such films as “Walk in the Clouds” and “Bottle Shock” (which was filmed partly in Sonoma County), cinema is woven into the region’s identity in other ways, said Patrick Davila, chairman of the Napa Valley Film Festival board of directors.

“I don’t think we’ve ever focused on bringing movie companies here to film,” he said of the festival’s leadership. “But the festival serves as an incubator for young directors who come to show their films here, see the scenery and might become interested in filming here.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. Read his Arts blog at arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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