Spin Me Round, 2022.
Directed by Jeff Baena.
Starring Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Alessandro Nivola, Molly Shannon, Tim Heidecker, Ayden Mayeri, Zach Woods, Ben Sinclair, Fred Armisen, Debby Ryan, Lil Rel Howery, Ego Nwodim, Lauren Weedman, Jake Picking, and Tricia Helfer.
Alison Brie stars as the manager of an Italian restaurant chain who wins the opportunity to attend the franchise’s educational immersion program in Italy. What she thought would be a romantic getaway devolves into chaos and catastrophe.
Viewers are certainly spun round and round during director Jeff Baena’s Spin Me Round (writing alongside regular collaborator and star Alison Brie). However, whether any of the misdirection amounts to anything is up for debate. If nothing else, the story, which intentionally feels like it could enter a dangerous direction or something more lighthearted and comedic, all while commentating on relationship power dynamics (and how the men in that dynamic prey on and lower the guards of vulnerable or unsuspecting women), coasts by on the strength of its jokes and amusing characters (some of which could be involved with an ongoing mystery or oblivious through stupidity).
Amber (Alison Brie) is a hard-working manager for a somewhat respectable Italian restaurant chain who finds herself (thanks to her boss, played by the always funny Lil Rel Howery in a few short scenes) winning a trip from Bakersfield to Italy on a retreat. Technically, it’s described as an educational immersion program for said restaurant chain, but the natural appeal comes from international travel and potentially meeting the smoldering face of the brand, Alessandro Nivola’s Nick Martucci. Amber is also a likable presence deserving of this partially relaxing trip, and her coworkers also seem to think so, with Emily (Ego Nwodim) excitedly hyping up all the sights and sounds to take in and the possibility of falling in love.
The retreat turns out to not be all it’s cracked up to be, with Amber, along with the other chosen members for the program, staying in a dilapidated hotel rather than the promised luxurious villa. Her companions for the program are also an odd bunch, ranging from TV cooking show contestants that are far less famous than they think they are, a hyperactive woman missing her luggage, and various other characters that register as weird more than anything. Keeping with the pattern, Ben Sinclair’s program instructor Craig appears to be a shady fellow, taking away everyone’s passports as soon as they arrive.
The above makes for a first act that is too quirky and often trying too hard to elicit laughter. This also goes on for a grating 30 minutes with aimless plot direction, causing one to ponder what Spin Me Round is trying to accomplish. It’s not until the group eventually meets Nick (who is only interested in the program’s women and presumably only wanted women to be there, considering the only men chosen have feminine-skewing names) that the proceedings become more engaging.
This is especially so when his assistant Kat (an unreadable Aubrey Plaza, also a frequent collaborator of Jeff Baena and his wife) pulls a few strings to get Amber out of the scheduled courses (everything from cooking exercises to stranger, more inexplicable activities like watching movies and executing trust falls) and into a private conversation with Nick aboard his yacht.
At first, Amber and Nick make small talk until the latter asks a more invasive personal question about the former’s love life. Alessandro Nivola is also excellent at playing a wealthy charmer with ulterior motives clear to everyone but Amber. Considering how special he can quickly make her feel, it’s no surprise his snaky affection is adequate. Given what we know about rich sex pests in the real world, Jeff Baena seems to be preparing the audience for something sinister.
There’s also the mystery of Kat’s part in this, who has also developed a crush on Amber but could also be a part of Nick’s scheming or some combination of blackmailed and kidnapped into rounding up women for him (there’s a book she carries with her pointing to this scenario). However, it does become difficult to suspend disbelief for how long Amber goes without giving into suspicion that something is off about Nick, inevitably failing at mining her trust for humor.
Spin Me Round is strictly comedic with its approach. Admittedly, the reveals and antics during the last 20 minutes or so are hilarious. Still, there’s also the sensation that the script undercuts some of his more serious themes, leaves some character arcs dangling, and is more committed to keeping viewers guessing than building towards something substantial. It’s a look at inappropriate power dynamics through broad comedy; fortunately for the filmmakers, some of the jokes and performances are a hoot but at the expense of a scattershot and undercooked plot.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com