Ms Representation: Something amiss in Wine Country
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author writes about Netflix’s Wine Country
I’ve been looking forward to Netflix’s Wine Country. What’s not to love about a film directed by Amy Poehler (and featuring her), and also starring a personal favourite, Maya Rudolph (as Naomi), alongside Rachel Dratch (as Rebecca), Ana Gatseyer (as Catherine), Paula Pell (as Val), Emily Spivey (as Jenny), and Tina Fey (as Tammy) in a small role? It held the promise of a great, all-women, buddy-road trip movie. Wine Country, however, turned out to be a mellow narrative about seven women that never really took off.
The film takes so few risks with its women and does so little with all that talent. Its fixation with neat endings doesn’t help either. Wine Country is the story of six friends going away to Wine Country, California, where Tammy owns a great place. Peohler (as Abby) uses Rebecca’s fiftieth birthday plan as a ‘mission’ to keep herself busy, even as she’s grappling with a personal crisis. We don't really feel her crisis though. We see it, but it’s never enough to move us.
Naomi is waiting (nervously) for her BRCA test results. I was also shocked about the kind of misinformation with respect to cancer this film pushes, having seen the illness at close quarters. The BRCA is simply a test to see if a woman has a genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer. Instead, in Wine Country, Naomi’s character says that the BRCA test is actually one to confirm whether or not she has cancer. This is not true. A BRCA mutation does not indicate the presence of cancer. Spoiler alert, Naomi doesn’t have it, and everyone sighs with relief and goes home happily.
One is happy for Naomi, for no one wants another woman with this prospect. However, I was disappointed that Peohler did not research the BRCA more before making it an important plot point. (For the record, many women find out they are BRCA positive and continue to live their best life in reality, even as they grapple with questions of preventative mastectomies and other surgeries.) Rudolph, for her part, plays the vulnerable woman whose nerves are wound tight with the fear of the test results and death itself in a relatable, earnest manner.
What I did like about the film, is the fact that none of the women for a minute obsess over any male character. Their problems are very much about their own selves. This is where Wine Country is most powerful. It’s a pity that this power never really translates into an intimate, screwy, portrayal of women over a certain age and their preoccupations.
When the women bash millennials it feels too caricature-ish, though enjoyable initially. That’s true of many things about Wine Country as well. Its women dwell on a point for too long, before it loses its punch and becomes a watered-down version of its original, on-paper brilliant idea.