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Amy Poehler just expertly dismantled the ‘women vs women’ myth

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The actor, writer and director’s new career goal is all about shine theory. 

Forget the Bechdel test, Amy Poehler’s new movie Wine Country has a different bar to clear.

“It passes the Jeffdel test,” she joked to the Sunday Times last weekend. “No two straight men talk to each other,” in the course of the film.

That’s not to say that there aren’t male voices in Wine Country, a tale of a group of longterm female friends who retreat to Napa Valley to marinate in Pinot Grigio and have one epic weekend away, because there are. Jason Schwartzman, for example, plays a character loosely based on a real-life Napa Valley restauranteur. But Wine Country is all about the ladies. Poehler’s cast included her longterm Saturday Night Live buddies Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer and Paula Pell, and the film was designed so that each of them could shine.

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“I like to brag we had 20 years of rehearsal, basically,” Poehler told The Hollywood Reporter. “A lot of my work [as a director] was slowing everybody down, reminding them they didn’t have to come in and score. Because these ladies are assassins. They parachute in to other people’s movies and they’re the funniest part of the movie. They just kill. But many of them have not necessarily been in the entirety of a movie, with a continuing arc that we’re going to stick with.”

Poehler, who also wrote the movie, wanted to give that to her longterm friends and colleagues: the chance to shine in a project designed expressly for them to do so. And in making Wine Country a vehicle for some of the funniest women in comedy to do what they do so well, unfettered and unrestricted, Poehler expertly dismantled the myth of women pitting themselves against each other.

“I’ve had the incredible good fortune of being around supportive, interesting women who are not looking to take each other down,” Poehler told The Hollywood Reporter. “And I am a very competitive person. But it’s never in response or reaction to somebody else’s successes or failures. And the few times I’ve stepped into that world, on other projects, it’s very Art of War, where I’ve laid down my shield very fast. It’s like ‘Oh no, that’s not how I operate. I don’t work that way.’ And usually it’s very disarming because there are a lot of women who have had different experiences and rightfully don’t always trust the people they’re with.”

For Poehler, this next wave of her career is all about prioritising female voices in the traditionally male-dominated world of comedy. She’s doing so in film and sketch comedy but also in television, where shows like Russian Doll, which she produced with Natasha Lyonne, have become enormous hits. 

Natasha Lyonne in Netflix's Russian Doll

The focus on telling women’s stories and highlighting female voices is a response, Poehler has said, to the fact that she spent most of her 20s and 30s subsuming her own comedic voice in order to fit in.

“I’ve been trying to unpack my own deep institutionalised misogyny,” Poehler told The Hollywood Reporter. “Our generation of women, Gen Xer women, we desexualised ourselves. And that stuff gets really ingrained. I grew up in a time where trying to sympathise or empathise with the male experience was how I was able to be included in the experience.”

But no longer. As Poehler described one of her new projects coming soon to Netflix, the time is right for some “coming-of-rage” stories led by women. And we can’t think of a better person than Poehler to tell them. 

Images: Getty, Netflix 

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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