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.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Director Amy Poehler’s WINE COUNTRY spotlights what it’s like when a bunch of longtime friends get together to celebrate each other and air some difficulties. But for co-writer Liz Cackowski, writing the film took on deeper meaning as she was able to blend a few of her real-life experiences in while bringing out the vibrancy of this ensemble’s comedic strengths.
At the film’s recent press day, I spoke with the quick-witted writer about everything from how her SNL background informs her writing techniques, if the cast was ever taken off-guard by the filmed shenanigans, and what personal touches she brought into the fold.
With everyone having a background in improv, are you less precious about sticking every word of the script?
The script was pretty tight and shot what was scripted. Because we knew everybody’s voices so well, I take it as a compliment when people ask if it’s improv. I hope it does come across as the camera just happened to pick up a real conversation between people.
I don’t know if we did any “fun run,” when you completely improvise, but we really didn’t do it much. If anything, we had alt jokes. I was on set every day to do any rewrites, or if something was wonky in a scene, we could fix it. We’re all writers as well so we do like to craft the scene and make sure what’s written is good. SNL teaches you that. Writing and re-writing is like trying to beat that joke. The style of writing we do is an improv style of writing where you riff for a while before you figure out what you would do. Emily and I would talk about the scene for a while before we’d actual write it.
Let’s talk about the scene where the ladies are given the choice to do MDMA and instead they take a vote to listen to the podcast about it.
There are so many films where people go on a trip and things get crazy – they go wild. The way we would pitch this movie is, “So this is the movie where all these ladies go on a trip and they don’t do drugs.” The people would stare at us and wouldn’t get it. We’d have to explain it’s because these women were in their 40’s and wanted to make sure they could sleep and not feel crappy tomorrow.
The realization they have that they aren’t really drug people, but are on a shitload of prescription drugs. That day on set, we said, “If anyone wants to say the drugs they are on, let me know and we’ll create a list. If not, you can say the ones I’m on, because I’m on so freaking many.” Hearing all the drug names cracked me up.
Did the ladies know which dildo Paula (“Val”) would give them in advance?
That I love so much. Emily and I love writing characters. We could talk characters all day. It almost was like an improv scene where Paula was going to hand out those dildos to everyone. The props department were like, “What kind of dildos?” We were like, “Oooh. What if every dildo represents a character? It’s like a character study.” Instead of “What’s this character’s job? What’s this character like to wear?” it was “What’s this character’s favorite dildo?” (laughs)
There’s a scene that revolves around Fran Drescher’s THE NANNY. Did you have to clear it with legal to use her name or likeness?
I don’t know. I didn’t ever look into that. It was always going to be Fran Drescher. That’s all Emily Spivey’s brilliant idea. We knew we wanted to do a scene with different generations – specifically millennials. Emily was like, “They love THE NANNY.” I was like, “They do?! What?!” She wrote the first draft of that scene. She’s exactly Jenny in the movie.
One of my favorite scenes is when Maya’s in the winery fields talking about getting her bikini line lasered and she does the Billy Bob Thorton in SLING BLADE impression.
Oh my gosh. So that’s my story. I’m the one who did the laser hair removal. I was like, “I kinda want to put this in the movie because it’s something I’m thinking about right now.” I asked Maya, “Would you feel comfortable talking about your bikini area because that’s what happened to me.” She said, “Oh my god, yes.” That one is not her truth, but she delivered it so well. She represented my shameful truth. It’s a warning to the younger generation about lasering their hair.
Are exercises like “Path not taken” or inside jokes like “The Things we say now” something that came from you and your friends?
“Things we say now” is from my life. It started just by talking about how early we wanted to eat dinner. I was out with my friends and I was kind of embarrassed to [ask for an early dinner]. Back in New York, you ate at 8 o’clock if not later. Now we all have kids and I said, “Would it be okay to do an early dinner?” My friends were like, “Yes! 6:30 would be great! Boy times have changed. Things we say now!” We would riff back and forth. “Let’s find a restaurant that doesn’t have loud music because I want to talk to you. I can’t hear if the music’s loud.” Any medical talk, that’s me on the phone. Things we say now.W
WINE COUNTRY’sexclusive theatrical engagements begin on May 8th. It streams globally on Netflix starting on May 10.