Dear Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman,
Hiring you to do the music for Wine Country, a comedic love letter to female friendship, was an inspired move. Who better to provide the soundtrack to Gen Xers as they gallivant around Napa Valley than two of the coolest women of that era?
You have been friends since you were little girls. Your dads were members of the notorious session band The Wrecking Crew, and together you went on to perform as members of The Revolution, a band best known for backing Prince on the Grammy and Oscar-winning album Purple Rain. You were born to score this kind of film, and you don’t disappoint.
When the women of Wine Country get together, it is set to the song “Message of Love” by The Pretenders. Strong start. But by the end of the film, I couldn’t help but feel that a more apt Pretenders song would have been “Middle of the Road”.
Wine Country feels like it was made for women like me. Six friends who met while working at a Chicago pizzeria in the 90s get together for a weekend to celebrate a 50th birthday. Starring former SNL castmates Amy Poehler (who also directed), Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Tina Fey in a scene-stealing minor role, and former SNL scribes Paula Pell and Emily Spivey (who co-wrote this script with another former SNL writer, Liz Cackowski), their real-life friendship means their characters have a built-in shorthand.
In terms of character development, the script didn’t seem too invested in layering these women’s lives beyond one or two traits a piece. Despite its shortcomings, Wine Country manages to hum along just fine. Not the fist-pumping banger I’d hoped for, but a charming toe-tapper that left a wine-stained smile on my face.
This is the perfect casual viewing Netflix film. And not just because an R-rated comedy starring women over 40 isn’t exactly big screen blockbuster material. Wine Country seems specifically designed to share with friends in comfy yoga pants in the living room over a bottle of wine, which is exactly how I watched it. My BFF Julie and I, both veterans of the hospitality industry who just happen to be celebrating birthdays this week, are the bullseye for this flick’s target demo . Within the first fifteen minutes, we’d paused the film at least five times to look at each other in disbelief. So many moments rang true that it felt like we were watching a documentary.
Something special happens when a group of former bar staff get together. We drink. We shout. We swear. To onlookers we seem inappropriate. If you’ve ever seen a table of loud older women at a fancy restaurant getting rowdy and wonder why the restaurant staff aren’t stopping us but are actively encouraging us by sending over shots on the house and free desserts, it’s because they know we are huuuuuge tippers who will help them fold napkins after the other patrons are long gone. Wine Country absolutely nails this dynamic. Especially the singing and the dancing which inevitably occurs around the time the third bottle of Syrah gets poured.
Music is an integral part of bar staff friendships, partly because of the nostalgia element – most bars play Top 40 – but because anyone who has worked in hospitality knows that the key to a fun night is building an epic, danceable set. You included songs like “Poison” by Bel Biv Devoe, “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde, “Bust a Move” by Young MC, and the classic Gen X bestie singalong song, “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles. But music isn’t just background noise in Wine Country, it’s built into the script.
When the friends get back from dinner with take-out bags of McDonalds and the command to “put your comfy clothes on”, Amy Poehler’s Abby and Emily Spivey’s Jenny confer over the stereo about which songs to play to keep the party going. When Jenny says, “we start with “Sweet Child O Mine” then cascade into “Paradise City”. Then anything from the Xanadu soundtrack, anything from the Flashdance soundtrack…” Julie and I stopped the film for the umpteenth time because we were spooked. When we get drunk together, these are our go-to musical choices. Later on, when Jenny and Maya Rudolph’s Naomi are in the hot tub, having a drunk heart to heart about Prince and how all our heroes are dying, we stopped the film again, because we have had these exact conversations, almost verbatim, with Olivia Newton John’s “Magic” playing in the background. Wendy and Lisa, you and Wine Country really get us.
Wine Country does skip a few beats, namely a cringey scene in which the friends crash an art show and excoriate Millennials for their unbridled confidence, and some other obvious plot contrivances. But the hits more than make up for the B-sides. It’s a rare film that stars a group of middle-aged women who don’t spend the majority of the movie talking about men or their kids. Friendship and wine are the focus here, and of course, music.
Wine Country is like a classic album listened to in its entirety; some songs are better than others, but that doesn’t mean you skip them (because Gen Xers know that would involve getting up to move the needle, and we are slackers to the core), you just let it play.
Yours in Computer Blue,