For better or worse, Spin Me Round is a worthy addition to writer-director Jeff Baena’s growing filmography.
The Alison Brie-led comedy has a lot in common with several of Baena’s past efforts. Like Life After Beth and The Little Hours, the film is a desert-dry farce about miscommunication and confusion. In certain moments, it even feels like Baena’s most precise examination of the strange places that romantic yearning can take a person. As was the case with Horse Girl, The Little Hours, and Joshy, too, Baena’s latest effort also boasts an impressive cast of capable, charming performers, including Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Molly Shannon, and Fred Armisen.
But Spin Me Round still suffers from many of the same issues that have become commonplace in Baena’s work. Specifically, the new vacation-gone-wrong comedy spends much of its runtime moving along at a meandering pace, one which its third act never manages to fully justify. Consequently, Spin Me Round ends up ranking as one of this year’s strangest comedies. Like many of Baena’s films, it’s absurdly hilarious in certain parts and needlessly frustrating in others.
Spin Me Round follows Amber (Brie), a manager at an Olive Garden-esque Italian chain restaurant, who receives an invite to travel to Italy and take part in an annual corporate immersion program that is intended to honor and reward her employer’s best workers. When she arrives, Amber soon finds herself being seduced by the restaurant chain’s handsome owner, Nick (Alessandro Nivola), whose attention leads her to believe that her Italian getaway may end up being the trip of a lifetime.
Unfortunately for Amber, not everything is as it seems. Soon enough, her doubts about Nick’s intentions, which are stoked by the warnings of his prickly assistant, Kat (Plaza), force her to consider the possibility that her Italian trip may be more dangerous than she’d initially assumed. Once that belief takes hold, it’s not long before Amber’s vacation begins to devolve into pure and utter chaos.
That premise efficiently sets Spin Me Round up to be a truly absurd, go-for-broke vacation comedy. To the film’s credit, it does eventually become that, but only after spinning its wheels for nearly an hour. The film’s script, which was co-written by Baena and Brie, never quite figures out how to effectively build toward its memorable climax, or how to plant the kind of intriguing seeds that viewers need in order to remain engaged all the way up to the moment when the artificial alfredo sauce finally hits the fan.
Spin Me Round expects the absurd shenanigans of its third act to make up for the patience required to make it through its first hour, but that’s not what happens. While the film’s climax is genuinely fun to watch unfold, the surprisingly strained epilogue that follows it isn’t satisfying enough to bring everything in Spin Me Round together. Instead, the film ends up feeling, much like the food that Nivola’s restaurant chain serves, like an assemblage of disparate ingredients that have been haphazardly tossed together rather than lovingly combined into one cohesive meal.
Thankfully, while Baena has repeatedly struggled to fully explore his ideas onscreen, the writer-director has always had a knack for putting together an impressive cast. That’s especially true in Spin Me Round, which allows every one of its actors to make a memorable impression, even when the film’s plot doesn’t know what to do with them.
As Kat, Plaza brings a refreshingly forthright, acerbic presence to Spin Me Round, which just makes the lackluster treatment of her character by Brie and Baena’s script even more disappointing. Her sudden exit in the film’s second half, which is nonchalantly shrugged off by Nivola’s Nick, leaves Spin Me Round with a hole that it never quite manages to fill. Fortunately, Nivola, who has steadily emerged as one of Hollywood’s most reliable character actors, turns in yet another impressively committed performance in Spin Me Round as the lovelorn, manipulative object of Amber’s desire.
Zach Woods also gradually emerges as one of Spin Me Round’s most valuable players. After spending a majority of its first two acts waiting in the background, Woods takes hold of the reins in Spin Me Round’s final third and gives a paranoid and frustrated performance of truly screwball proportions. His memorable turn as Dana, one of the restaurant managers that Brie’s Amber meets on her trip, helps heighten the absurdity of many of Spin Me Round’s climactic revelations.
All of this is to say that Spin Me Round feels, in many ways, like the logical latest addition to Baena’s filmography. Its third act may be the director’s most satisfying to date, but its first hour feels, at times, frustratingly dull and drawn-out. While the film is deliberately designed to test its viewers’ patience, Spin Me Round’s admittedly funny climax never feels big or seismic enough to be the complete payoff to its hourlong slow burn.
In other words, Spin Me Round is, like several of Baena’s past films, effective in short bursts but ultimately slighter than its all-star cast would have you believe.
Spin Me Round hits theaters and AMC+ on Friday, August 19.
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