Amy Poehler takes on her feature-length directorial debut with the new Netflix film “Wine Country.” Can the acclaimed comedian age like fine wine amongst this equally eclectic ensemble?
The film tells the story of a group of women who travel to the California wine country for a 50th birthday celebration. Despite doing their best to have fun and explore, tensions begin to rise as their personal lives and issues start testing their friendship.
In what should be no surprise to anyone, Poehler’s greatest strengths come in directing the chemistry among the main cast. A plethora of “Saturday Night Live” alum — many of whom have worked alongside Poehler in the past — populate the film and work magic off one another. Maya Rudolph and Paula Pell stand out in their respective roles, as well as incredible supporting performances by Maya Erskine, Jason Schwartzman and Tina Fey.
The genuine nature of their interactions kept the humor feeling fresh while never being particularly gut-busting; it’s amusing to watch and feels natural throughout. The quirks given to each character help each of them stand out enough so that having them together could generate some hearty chuckles.
Poehler appears to struggle in allowing the film’s pacing to properly balance the humor and drama in an effective manner. The dramatic elements given to these characters are given some decent buildup to develop, but the resolution to these arcs failed to go far past surface level tension. At the same time, the film is determined to allow the third act to stretch out in order to deliver a metaphor for the character’s growth, but due to the overall development feeling weak, it ends up not feeling quite as powerful as it should. Similarly, the film’s presentation has nothing special to offer. Being a directorial debut, this isn’t surprising — with nothing in the cinematography, editing, sound design or art direction particularly standing out.
Overall, Poehler’s directorial debut is a decent effort. The talented cast, delightful humor and sweet message make up for any narrative or thematic mishaps that may show up throughout. Hopefully we can see more Poehler in the near future, but for now her first effort is worth a taste.