An abundance of quirky quips and seasoned comedians fail to adequately enrich Spin Me Round, the fifth feature from co-writer/director Jeff Baena. The latest script penned by Baena and Alison Brie (who previously worked together on the comparatively dark Horse Girl) teases a comedic, self-aware take on the classic conceit of a clueless American woman who finds herself in Europe. In reality, the writers are totally preoccupied with infusing incessant bits and half-baked plot points into the film to the point of tragically underutilizing its cast of comedy heavyweights. While some players like Molly Shannon, Tim Heidecker and Ben Sinclair manage to create (somewhat) compelling characters with minimal screentime or exposition, the slew of other actors involved are reduced to minor roles that exist for the sole purpose of flaunting Baena’s robust professional ties. Spin Me Round isn’t completely devoid of moments of genuine humor—it’s just far too obsessed with its own incomplete narrative to appropriately platform the talent at its disposal.
Amber (Brie) has spent the past nine years working as the manager of a Tuscan Grove, the film’s unsubtle spoof of Olive Garden. Her daily routine of going through the monotonous motions of mid-level management is pleasantly interrupted when her boss (Lil Rel Howery) nominates her for a trip to the company’s “Institute” in Italy, She’s ecstatic about the spontaneous new adventure, but the aesthetically striking trip that she anticipated is a far cry from what’s actually offered to her. Expecting to stay in a grand Tuscan villa surrounded by unbridled natural beauty, Amber and the handful of other managers selected for the program are confined to drab motel rooms and told that, for their own protection, they’re barred from exploring the surrounding Italian landscape without a chaperone.
A goody two-shoes by nature, Amber has few qualms over this arrangement—that is, until hunky CEO Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola) steps into the picture, perfectly poised to sweep Amber off of her feet. Nick’s fiery assistant Kat (Aubrey Plaza) manages to bring out some of Amber’s bad side (mostly smoking cigarettes and fucking with the Italian locals), but amid the chaotic fun, she can’t help but shake the feeling that there’s something sour about the whole situation. Why were their U.S. passports taken for “safekeeping” upon their arrival? Why is Nick asking so many strangely personal questions? Is the threat of wild boars honestly the reason why they’ve been given such a strict curfew?
Truthfully, none of these questions are ever properly resolved. Ambiguous, open-ended storytelling is by no means a defect in its own right, but Spin Me Round becomes increasingly frustrating in its tendency to introduce narrative tangents without any intention to elaborate or connect them. Amber momentarily mentions a tumultuous break-up and her short-lived attempt to open her own restaurant midway through her tenure at Tuscan Grove, but these details are never explored any further. She also engages in sporadic phone calls with a supposed best friend, a character so ancillary that it’s almost distracting. Perplexingly, this is also true of other characters played by far more established actors. Fred Armisen’s sculptor—who hosts a lavish party that Nick, Kat and Amber attend—is such a flat caricature that his inclusion merely provokes a “Look! It’s Fred Armisen!” The same can ostensibly be said for Plaza’s involvement. Though she’s given second billing, she unceremoniously disappears during the third act, permanently shuffled out of frame after sharing a sapphic moment with Brie that is depressing, uninspired and borders on straight-up fetishistic.
In the same vein, Spin Me Round constantly strives to assert its alleged commitment to a vague feminist message, but ends up catering to reductive, lazy tropes about womanhood instead. Shannon’s character descends into hysterical madness after her luggage is lost and she can’t take her pills; Plaza is proposed to be a lesbian that uses the program for her predatory sexual needs; an aging yet wildly successful chef (Lauren Weedman) laments that random men don’t catcall her on the street anymore. Sure, much of it is played tongue-in-cheek for eccentricity’s sake, but it doesn’t do any of these formidable funnywomen any favors, either.
This veritable fairytale for the girlboss generation is hammered home with a rejection of the grand romantic gestures that dominate the rom-com landscape. However, the film concludes on such a flaccid, hollow note that it makes the entire viewing experience feel mind-numbingly futile as a result. Had the film ended 10 minutes earlier, during an unexpected moment of outlandish slapstick humor, Spin Me Round may have ended up being well worth the slog. Though there are certainly moments where visual gags or exchanges between characters warrant a generous chuckle—ready-made pouches of nauseating alfredo sauce, the sheer mention of Tenafly, New Jersey and almost anything Shannon utters—but these moments are few and far between, making for a disappointing watch that thwarts its greatest asset: The stacked cast that could have elevated the project had their comedic talents been properly tapped.
Director: Jeff Baena
Writers: Jeff Baena, Alison Brie
Stars: Alison Brie, Alessandro Nivola, Aubrey Plaza, Molly Shannon, Tim Heidecker, Ben Sinclair, Zach Woods, Ayden Mayeri, Fred Armisen, Debby Ryan, Lil Rel Howery
Release Date: August 19, 2022
Natalia Keogan is Filmmaker Magazine’s web editor, and regularly contributes freelance film reviews here at Paste. Her writing has also appeared in Blood Knife Magazine, SlashFilm and Daily Grindhouse, among others. She lives in Queens with her large orange cat. Find her on Twitter @nataliakeogan