"Wine Country"

A scene from 'Wine Country.'

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I had a free evening and a copy of “The Curse of the Fly,” a 1960s cult classic, which I was curious to see. But my daughter, unenthusiastic about radioactive flies, made the case that first we should finish watching “Wine Country.”

We had started to watch it the night before, but after 10 minutes we were mightily bored and I decided I would rather do laundry.

John Henry Martin, who makes a noble effort to be upbeat about every production he reviews, had disliked it, vehemently (see his review). So had colleagues at the Register. “My friends and I don’t talk that way,” Norma said. Louis said he’d fast-forwarded it so many times to skip the tedious parts, if I did watch it, please let him know if he’d missed something good.

But it is our valley where the film is set, and as my daughter pointed out, it’s never a bad idea to see how others view it. So we settled in to watch the rest of it.

You know how sometimes a film is so bad, it’s funny? The problem with “Wine Country” is that it is silly, vulgar, often dumb and rife with goofy mistakes, ("Because this wine is organic, you may find sediment in your glass"), but it never gets to funny. It’s stuck in “huh?”

The plot lurches along like a pick-up that has lost a wheel, but the premise is that a group of women decide to celebrate one’s 50th birthday by spending a weekend in Napa. By which they evidently mean Calistoga, but that’s being picky.

The idea is that they will drink, lose their inhibitions and re-bond. There are, of course, people whom you never want to see without their inhibitions, and here they are. These are ugly drunks, although as time goes limping by, it becomes clear that there is not much difference between them drunk, or not-so-drunk. Collectively and individually, their self-loathing is exceeded only by their self-absorption. As a result, they're so dull that when one of them gets bit by a snake (way to go, snake!), one can only wish it had managed to nail all six before slithering away.

There are many peculiar plot points in “Wine Country,” and the snake episode is one of them. The group has arrived on a hillside in a golf cart, and one of them gets bit by a snake, falls down and insists she will die. They all leap to their phones to call an ambulance — but there’s no service. No one thinks to snap a photo of the snake since they clearly don't know if it's a poisonous one (or what it's doing on a sunny hillside looking for tourists to bite instead of curling up under a cool rock). Nor does it occur to them to bundle their friend into the golf cart and get her to an ER. No, instead, one by one, they decide it's time to be exuberant roll down the steep hill. This includes the snake-bit person. As the scene ends, five of them are standing at the bottom of the hill, cheering on the sixth, who bizarrely, thinks it is triumphant to make a swan dive down a hill, with unfortunate results.

Natural selection aside, they somehow arrive at the ER. And when the young doctor tells them that it was not a venomous snake (not really news, since the woman exhibits no signs of trauma) — they turn on him, as a group, with more venom that any poor rattler could ever have summoned. Huh?

In fact, their rudeness bothered me more than the fact that their vocabulary was largely limited to variations on the f-word. When their driver starts to tell them a little history of Napa, they cut him off; they want to sing their DUI songs (now, there's a knee-slapper). When a tasting room assistant tries to tell them about wine, they interrupt, "Just give us the wine." When the server asks them not to walk in the vineyards, the women promptly go walk in the vineyards. 

Lord knows (well, at least we who live here do) that Napa Valley yields up plenty of fodder for satire, but the filmmakers missed it and turned instead on working folks who are on the front lines here. It yields a creepy impression that, in their view, these hard-working people — and our little valley — exist only to serve the whims of drunken visitors, not to mention filmmakers. Yikes, is everyone in this country now infected with a rampant raunchiness and bad manners?

At last, it ended, and I made a note to tell Louis he had missed nothing by fast-forwarding. I asked my daughter, if she thought I was becoming my grandmother or Queen Victoria, unamused. She had laughed once, when one woman interrupts a group of performing musicians and grabs the mic to sing but falls off the piano.

“Mom,” she said, “we should have watched ‘Curse of the Fly.’”

When I was in Journalism school, Ben Bagdikian told us that it’s possible to write about a place when you have been there fewer than eight days or longer than eight years. In between, you risk getting it wrong. Clearly, the filmmakers had spent nine days in wine country.

Now, I will say something nice: at least, ‘Wine Country’ is forgettable.

This article originally ran on napavalleyregister.com.