‘Wine Country’ is party time in Napa Valley
It’s hard not to feel like a party crasher while watching the sloppy comedy “Wine Country,” about a group of close friends on a getaway.
You know the feeling: With a hopeful smile, you slide into a clubby, cheery gathering where revelers are grinning and regularly busting a gut, collectively riding the same giddy wave.
You think you want in on the joke, but then suddenly, desperately, you’re looking for the nearest exit.
Crammed with funny performers — starting with Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch — “Wine Country” looks like an easy, obvious win.
Longtime friends, who decades earlier worked in the same pizzeria, travel to the Napa Valley to celebrate a milestone birthday. Rebecca (Dratch) is about to turn 50, which has inspired the group celebration-retreat.
Abby — Poehler, who also directed and helped come up with the story — is the event’s engineer and also the story’s real fulcrum.
She hasn’t just hatched the itinerary, she’s also created dossiers for her friends filled with precision-timed commitments more suggestive of an armed invasion than a collegial reunion.
The brisk opener is promising, with a series of quick introductions that sketch in each woman’s identity and suggest the hurdle each will soon confront.
Rebecca is a therapist with an inattentive husband; Naomi (Rudolph) is the overextended mother with no visible help.
Abby is packing up her desk at work while making the final arrangements, so seems to have complications.
The other friends — played by Emily Spivey, Paula Pell and Ana Gasteyer — also have identities and issues, most tinny or vague.
And, unsurprisingly, Tina Fey pops in every so often as the owner of the McVilla that Abby rents, a sprawl that comes with its own driver and (inept) cook (Jason Schwartzman).
Once the friends convene, the movie settles into a lazy, lackadaisical groove. The episodic story — Spivey and Liz Cackowski wrote the script — tracks the women as they hang out, tour Napa, drink, laugh and cry. Repeat.
The comedy is situational and confessional, the flat one-liners mixed in with more memorable physical comedy.
The scripted lines rarely zing, sing or sting (some seem improvised), but when the performers fall down or screw up their faces, you get to watch them fill in their characters with something like real feeling, as when Naomi drunkenly invades a musical group and grabs the mic.
You wouldn’t want to be in that bar or, really, anywhere these women assemble, but Rudolph is a treat.
Poehler pads the drinking and sharing with pallid landscape shots that look like travel ads, though Napa has rarely appeared this washed out. There’s some flirting and an unfunny bit about millennials.
Mostly, Poehler focuses on the women in various formations. She also gives herself the best scene, snapping off her twinkle for a killer deadpan that becomes an unsettlingly unreadable blankness.
Alas, in other scenes, some apparent and egregious digital manipulation occasionally turns the women’s faces into distracting smears.
It’s a baffling choice given that one of this movie’s minor pleasures is that it assumes that a group of middle-age women are worth hanging out with, funny or not.