Credit: Sean McElwee
by Chris Mello Featured Film Horizon Line

Spin Me Round — Jeff Baena

August 16, 2022

Spin Me Round, which bafflingly sidelines its most intriguing performer halfway through, ultimately offers little more than a light subversion of European vacay romcoms.

Jeff Baena’s Spin Me Round, co-written with its star Alison Brie, sets out as a comedic take on the very Hollywood idea of an American girl finding love abroad. Brie plays Amber, a manager of the movie’s Olive Garden stand-in, Tuscan Grove, who wins a manager’s retreat to Italy. For a while, the film proceeds as a feather-light comedy, playing the reality of staying in a bum hotel and attending boring courses against the expectations of life in a villa, until she meets Tuscan Grove CEO Nick (Alessandro Nivola) and begins what seems like the European romance of her dreams. For a bit, the film falls into a holding pattern between the increasingly strange and alarming relationship between the pair and the mostly annoying comedy taking place back at the retreat, which finds gifted comedic actors like Tim Heidecker and Zach Woods mostly sleepwalking. It alternates between mysterious and grating at the drop of a hat, almost always feeling like two halves of different movies, both mediocre.

Eventually, Nick and Amber’s clandestine relationship and its fallout take center stage as Amber and fellow retreater Dana (Zach Woods) dig into a possible conspiracy at the root of the Trojan Grove managers retreat, one that further points to relevant, post-#MeToo social concerns that the film repeatedly toys with. But it pulls back, flinches at the thought of exploring anything potentially thorny in favor of its preferred cheap comedy. A series of rug pulls in the finale do less to make our protagonists out to be paranoid and more to turn the whole film into a joke, one at the expense of anyone watching it, walking up to a queasy line before backing away again and again. In the end, Spin Me Round offers little more than a light subversion of European vacay romcoms, despite its empty gestures toward more intriguing, spikier ideas.

Aubrey Plaza is the easy bright spot of Spin Me Round, as the actress continues to prove her versatility and magnetism even in roles, like this one, that feel like a limiting step backwards for her, particularly compared to something like her riveting dramatic turn in Black Bear. As Nick’s assistant Cate, Plaza plays a variation on her old disaffected cool girl standby, but this time afflicted with a little more sexual energy. After carting Amber to and from several rendezvous with her boss, Cate and Amber take off on their own for the night, and the film briefly and electrically hints at possibilities between the pair. But like every other tantalizing thread Baena and Brie dangle in their script, it’s dropped in favor of a dumb, less engaging mystery. Throughout Plaza is the most engaging screen presence — admittedly not hard to accomplish here — and every scene without her begs for her spark. And so the choice to have her disappear from the movie midway through is but the worst in a sea of bad ones, a blunder that effectively eliminates our distraction from the sinking ship.

Originally published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 2.