[INTERVIEW] How a heartfelt moment in ‘WINE COUNTRY’ heralds a hopeful industry change

Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Paula Pell, Emily Spivey in WINE COUNTRY. Courtesy of Netflix.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

What began as a real-life milestone birthday getaway between a small group of longtime girlfriends, has now turned into a celebratory Netflix film other friends can gather together to watch and be inspired. WINE COUNTRY, a comedy directed and co-starring Amy Poehler, tells the story of a group of gal pals who meet up in the lush Napa Valley to bond, relive old times, imbibe lots of wine and work through their differences.

During the film’s recent press day, co-writer Liz Cackowski shared with me over the phone, that the impetus for creating a female-driven film that puts a welcomed spin on both SIDEWAYS and Adam Sandler’s philosophy on filmmaking with friends was something co-star Maya Rudolph had been angling for.

Maya was in GROWN UPS and she has said many times, “You guys. Why don’t we do this? Let’s pick a spot and make a movie and go?” And then we did.

Yet it wasn’t until co-star Rachel Dratch had her 50th birthday girls trip that the idea for a film began to gel. Cackowski said she, co-writer Emily Spivey and Poehler wanted to keep the characters as based in truth as possible.

Everybody’s kind of playing a real-life version of themselves and was willing to share their own truths and vulnerabilities about their life and what they’re going through. We could play with it and change some things. But everyone was down to make this very truthful about what it’s like to be this age and what it’s like to have female friendships.

A cameo appearance by Brené Brown, an author and research professor whose Ted Talks have gone viral and who also has a new special on Netflix, added to the film’s celebratory nature of female friendship.

Brené was so cool. It was the first week of shooting when she came. It was truly like meeting a huge celebrity. We had so many questions we wanted to ask her. She asked if she could bring her real girlfriends. So the extras in the scene with her are her real friends.

However, something the filmmakers never expected was that by writing and filming a heartrending scene involving more than one woman doing a stunt, it would help shifting gender dynamics of an entire field – that of the stuntwomen tasked to hurl themselves down a Napa Valley hillside. Cackowski continued,

There were so many friendship moments in creating the movie too. The other really cool scene was the scene on the hill. Everybody needed a stunt person. The stunt world is so male dominated. Many times, there’s only one stunt woman will get the job, but they all know each other because it’s such a small group of them. This was the first time they ever got to be on a movie together. They all know each other for being up against each other for the same job, but here they were getting to have a job together. And then they all went on their own girl’s trip!

It shows you how this one thing of greenlighting a movie that’s an all-female ensemble based movie and how that opens up more and more. It’s so nice.

Cackowski hopes that the film’s aspirational qualities will empower women to rally their friends together.

I hope they immediately call their girlfriends and book a trip. Truly! I hope it inspires a ton of vacations – even if it’s not a vacation. Group time with girls. I think that is as important as your trip with your family. Take time for it. Keep those friendships.

WINE COUNTRY’s exclusive theatrical engagements begin on May 8th. It streams globally on Netflix starting on May 10.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.