Film Review – Spin Me Round
Spin Me Round
Part of what makes traveling to other countries so much fun is the romanticism. Going to a new and exciting place, taking in the sights, eating good food, and making memories is what makes going abroad worth it. It’s the reason why many couples go overseas on their honeymoons. Of course, advertisements and commercials never show you the other side of these locales – where the beauty and allure masks a seedier, even perilous undercurrent. No place in the world is free of shadiness, and sometimes that ends up being a major culture shock for unsuspecting people.
I think that is the intention of Spin Me Round (2022). We’re introduced to a character who gets the opportunity to pack their bags and visit Italy. However, what was supposed to be a trip full of passion slowly peels away to reveal something entirely unexpected. This is not the vacation getaway of Eat Pray Love (2010) or the fantasy of a romance novel. Director Jeff Baena, along with cowriter/star Alison Brie, look to subvert the tropes of romantic comedies and delve into something stranger. Whether or not they pull it off is a little more muddied.
Baena is no stranger to altering certain preconceived notions in offbeat ways. As a writer and director, his work in I Heart Huckabees (2004), Life After Beth (2014), and The Little Hours (2017) shows his willingness to push the limit within a particular genre. His last outing, Horse Girl (2020) – also starring Brie – demonstrates how he can take material into absurd and abstract areas. Spin Me Round follows in this tradition, but in a more grounded, straight forward approach. Brie stars as Amber, manager of a national chain of Italian restaurants. She – along with a handful of other managers – gets handpicked to travel to Italy, take in the culture, and even get a chance to meet the CEO of the company, Nick (Alessandro Nivola).
The writing and direction immediately tell us that something is amiss with this whole trip. As soon as Amber steps off the plane, we get the feeling that things are slightly off kilter. Sean McElwee’s cinematography captures the Italian landscape and ocean fronts under a hazy golden hue, working in contrast to everything that Amber experiences. The resort the group stays at looks like a shabby motel, they get their passports taken from their host/guide Ben (Ben Sinclair), and their daily activities are half-hearted group exercises or watching Life is Beautiful (1997) on VHS. Not exactly the kind of vacation anyone would want to have. It’s as though they are being held at a daycare while all of Italy is outside their reach. Things only start to look up once Amber meets Nick and his assistant Kat (Aubrey Plaza). Surprisingly, the two narrow their attention toward Amber, taking her out and giving her preferential treatment above the other guests.
The narrative works best during this section. While Amber falls under the influence of Nick’s charms and Kat’s friendship, a subtle dread start creeping from the edges. Personal questions, a hand held a little too long, a stare a little too intense, characters that are too friendly, etc. These warning signs make themselves known despite how much fun Amber is having. Alison Brie is game to play up the comedy, passion, and danger of any given scene. Although her character develops a connection with Nick, it is Amber and Kat’s dynamic that is the most interesting. Brie and Plaza work off one another very well, and the relationship they build seems natural and easy. It’s a shame, really, that the narrative completely scraps this arc in the second half.
It’s that switching of gears that ends up being the downfall for the film. The tonal changes cause the narrative to zig zag in tangents that never amounts to anything. The latter stages involve the mystery of the entire program and how each member plays a role. The satirical comedy of the first and second acts takes a back seat to darker elements, even to the point of a thriller. Sadly, this section is not nearly as engaging. Many of the surprises can be guessed right away, and several set pieces turn wacky but don’t resolve – the story kind of ends in mid-sentence. Clearly, the production wanted to take the momentum to an extreme climax, but what we get is neither extreme nor climatic, but more cringe-inducing.
Above all else, Spin Me Round is just not that funny. The cast is a collection of talented actors and comedians, many of whom have previously worked with Baena. However, they are put in situations that never make the most of their comedic skills. Molly Shannon appears as a fellow guest who unfortunately lost her baggage, and as the plot progresses her unpredictable antics escalate. Sadly, Shannon is not given enough material to really build the character into a believable person, and thus many of her scenes look like she is reaching for a laugh. The same can be said for Fred Armisen, who plays Nick’s close friend and confidante. Armisen’s character is so underdeveloped that the only thing we get from him are creepy stares. This is a constant issue for nearly all the performers, especially for Aubrey Plaza. We think she plays an integral part as Kat but is given so little to do that she is nearly forgotten.
I can appreciate Spin Me Round’s attempt to flip the concept of these tourist spots, but it juggles so many spinning plates that the message gets lost in translation. It’s not sharp enough as satire or funny enough as a comedy. It comes in, fills two hours of runtime, and then leaves without much impact. We end up wondering what it’s trying to say, if anything at all.