Millennials Talk Cinema: ‘Wine Country,’ ‘Tolkien’ both disappoint
Two new films, inspired in varying degrees by true events or people, are among the many choices facing filmgoers and television watchers this week.
“Wine Country,” a Netflix movie written by Liz Cackowski and Emily Spivey, and directed on location in Napa by comic Amy Poehler, was based on a real-life trip to Northern California a few years ago. The film follows a group of friends on holiday in Napa to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of them. Soul-baring, embarassment, emotional eruption and massive alcohol consumption ensues.
“Tolkien,” directed by Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski, is based on the early life of author J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” It primarily focuses on the language-loving Tolkien’s youthful friendship with a group of students he shares literary and artistic interests in, and his romance with the determined, musically inclined Edith Bratt.
Here’s what two writers from our pool of local movie reviewers have to say about these films. It might be helpful to know that the phrase “lampshading” means to cover up a script element that might seem incongruous or prove distracting by simply noticing and naming it, then moving on. And in WWI, a “batman” was an assistant to a military officer.
I need to say up front that I am a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien.
That made watching this movie (and writing this review) quite difficult.
I’ll start with the good.
The shots are pretty, the battle scenes are effective, and the acting is delightful. Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins do a lovely job.
The hard thing for me to say is I didn’t like “Tolkien,” and I desperately wanted to.
I enjoyed parts of it immensely. But when I step back and consider my feelings as a whole, I’m left feeling discontented. While it was entertaining, and perfectly serviceable as a vehicle for the movie’s character Tolkien, it ultimately fails to do the life of the real person J.R.R. Tolkien justice.
There’s nothing especially creative or unique about “Tolkien” the movie.
There’s a formula that a lot of biopics tend to fall back on, a shorthand of personal history-telling that works. But it is ultimately a lazy track to take, especially when dealing with someone who was so incredibly imaginative and who lived a life that already feels like cinema.
In its plight to impress upon the audience what Tolkien would eventually do, it loses sight of who he was. The movie repeatedly reminds the audience that Tolkien will come to write “The Lord of the Rings.” When it simply showcases the potential influences behind his later work, this plays well enough, but there are many moments where it strays into a place that feels forced. In one scene, the story grinds to a halt so Hoult can reverently say “fellowship.” That felt akin to when a movie works in its own title - irritating, self-referential, and unnecessary. J.R.R. Tolkien wasn’t Frodo, he didn’t have a “batman” named Sam in WWI, and his life, while a definite influence on his writing, was fantastical and interesting precisely because it was real.
[Suggested emojis: Sad Face, Thumbs Down]
“WINE COUNTRY” (NR)
“Wine Country” opens with a wonderful montage in the form of a phone call. The scene bounces from character to character, showing who our leads are, the state of their lives, and some of the things that they are hiding. It’s witty and fun, and immediately brings you into the world of the characters. The actors are all great, are so much fun to watch, and have great chemistry. I believed them as life-long friends from different walks of life, coming together for a crazy birthday weekend.
So the friendship definitely works. I’m not entirely certain the rest of the film does.
There were shining moments, including a scene of the group confronting Brene Brown’s character at dinner and peppering her with self-help questions and a too-relatable Amy Poehler meltdown. The local filming locations were brilliantly showcased.
Wow, Napa is pretty.
The satirical portrayal of wine-and-foodie culture had me laughing at loud at times. However, the random poking fun at millennials has, for this millennial at least, gotten old, and the lampshading about white privilege is less meaningful than I think the screenwriter wanted it to be.
While the characters all have their own issues and fears, not all of them get a satisfying climax to their story, including one major character, whose arc sort of fizzled for me.
Despite my issues with the movie, “Wine Country” has something so few movies do: a group of women (middle aged women!) who are allowed to have fun, not look flawless or artfully rumpled on screen, and who star in their own story, unapologetically.
[Suggested emojis: Smiling Face, Wineglass Emoji]