The screenplay for “Spin me Round” (written by lead actress Alison Brie and filmmaker Jeff Baena) works for much of the film–until it falls into a hole of idiosyncrasies.
There is a lot going on with this unique film, the best being the deceptively anti-romantic view of the text.
Where most films find grand (and mostly clichéd) romance in a story like this, “Spin Me Round” is smarter than your average fare.
From the clever montage of processed foods being marketed as “from the old country” to the rebuking of the “plucky American falls in love while in a foreign country” formula, what Baena and Brie’s script captures is an adult and inventive experience.
Alison Brie is Amber, the complacent manager of Tuscan Grove, an Italian-themed restaurant chain styled after The Olive Garden.
Still carrying the baggage from a bad breakup Amber has decided to give up on love for a while.
Soon she is chosen to attend an all-expenses paid trip to a company retreat in Italy. She accepts as maybe, just maybe, there could be romance in her future. Amber’s outlook on relationships is colored by the very types of rom coms and romance novels this film pushes back against.
From the minute Amber (and five managers from around the country) reaches her destination, the storybook idea melts away. The managers are put in a cheap hotel that seems less comfortable than a Red Roof Inn. All of them expected a beautiful Italian villa.
Their driver states there will be no leaving if the “campus” during their stay, as Italy “can be a dangerous place”.
On top of everything else, they are asked to hand over their passports until the final day.
Tuscan Grove’s CEO, Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola) makes an impromptu appearance at the small room where the “retreat” is taking place. The boss immediately takes a shine to Amber, and in her current vulnerable state, she is receptive.
One of the picture’s main issues lies in the casting of Nivola. While the actor has turned up in good pictures over the years, he never had range, nor an interesting screen presence. As the restaurant chain’s founder, Nivola’s character is to be the suave and handsome stranger who intoxicates everyone. The actor cannot pull off his role here.
The next day, Martucci’s assistant Kat (the always interesting Aubrey Plaza), sneaks her out of the hotel and off to their boss’s yacht.
Brie shows serious skill in her portrayal of Amber from here until the end credits roll. It becomes clear that she is more lovestruck with the idea of Martucci and the international love connection, rather than the reality.
The next night, Kat takes Amber for a wild night down the backstreets of an Italian village. This will be a night of fine food, dancing, drinking, and seduction.
Kat and Amber’s night out is the film’s best sequence. Brie and Plaza open their characters to a world of danger and sexual adventure with depth and skill. Both actresses are at the peak of their talent here as emotions (both real and assumed) organically blossom, pulling the audience closer to each of them in unexpected ways.
Once back at the hotel, Amber, and fellow manager Dana (a very funny Zack Woods) begin to suspect something foul regarding this annual resort and the film takes a different path, losing its creative footing as it snowballs into an avalanche of over-the-top goofiness that seems to be from another film entirely.
There will be “Eyes Wide Shut”-styled orgies, alleged kidnapping, attempted seduction of Amber by different people, perhaps a killer, and attacks by wild boars.
I wish the filmmakers would have known how to bring all these things to a better conclusion.
The supporting cast does fine work. Amber’s fellow managers are played by some real talents. The best being Molly Shannon’s Deb, a sourpuss who becomes a “Single White Female” to Amber, as she latches onto her as if they were teen BFFs. Shannon uses her comedic talents to their full potential, reminding us that she is quite adept with darkly comedic roles.
Tim Heidekker is Fran, a boring and phony pseudo-expert on Italian cooking. Susie (Debbie Ryan) is a too-young-to-take-life-seriously manager who just wants to do ecstasy and have a good time. Jen (Aiden Mayeri) is overly positive and completely clueless. Finally, Zach Wood’s Dana is in total love with the franchise and CEO who employs him.
Ben Sinclair is a high point as Craig, the handler of the managers. Long a pleasure of any project he is involved with (see HBO’s “High Maintenance” and Hulu’s “The Resort”), Sinclair is a delight as a man who may hold the secret to it all.
Apart from the bland Nivola, the entire cast is completely endearing.
The film’s masterstroke is the score from Pino Donaggio. The artist’s work has long been unique among Italian film composers, while his music for the films of Brian De Palma stands as some of the best of their eras.
During the eighties, Donaggio had a distinct sound. His scores were full of Italian flavor, while able to go darker or more emotional with their rich orchestral beauty. That style is used to great effect, as Beana and his cinematographer Sean McElwee shoot the Italian landscapes as if this were a thriller circa 1983. Enhancing every moment, this picture’s score is filled with a lush and intoxicating class.
Female empowerment. Comedy. Drama. Thriller. It all exists here but does not blend seamlessly.
“Spin Me Round” is good (at times great) for so long that it comes as a crushing blow when the final act fails so severely.
The tremendous talent of Alison Brie guides us through the bumps, her nomination-worthy performance a true revelation.
When the smoke clears, Jeff Baena’s film is an interesting and watchable exercise in both exceeding and betraying one’s expectations in equal measure.