Spin Me Round

Spin Me Round

2022, NR, 104 min. Directed by Jeff Baena. Starring Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Alessandro Nivola, Molly Shannon, Tim Heidecker, Zach Woods, Fred Armisen, Debby Ryan, Lil Rel Howery.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Aug. 26, 2022

Consider Ocean's 11. The Rat Pack original, not the far better Steven Soderbergh remake. It was less a movie and more of an excuse for Frank Sinatra and his pals to hang out in Las Vegas and get paid to do it (several of the crew were actually pulling double duty, doing casino shows at night and filming in the day). As the saying goes, nice work if you can get it.

In recent years, Adam Sandler has gained begrudging respect for convincing studios to send him and his pals off to pleasant locations to make bland comedies like Grown Ups, but there's a sneaking suspicion that Jeff Baena pulled a similar trick with Spin Me Round, a shapeless satire that seems like a decent reason to spend a few weeks in Italy with some pals.

Baena must be the kind of director that actors like to work with again and again. He established his reputation for awkward and eccentric comedy as co-writer of I Heart Huckabees, and if anything that script proved his skill in understanding how to balance large ensembles. Over time as a director, he's assembled a troupe of regulars, starting with Aubrey Plaza and Molly Shannon in horror tragicomedy Life After Beth, initiating a working relationship with Alison Brie with Joshy, adding Fred Armisen to the mix in Boccaccio spoof The Little Hours, and then Debby Ryan joined the show with his last film, a more dramatic Brie vehicle, Horse Girl.

The gang's all here for Spin Me Round, and hopefully the ensemble enjoyed the filmmaking process, as the end result is an odd, laughless, meandering comedy that's not entertaining enough to be engaging or gifted with enough character insight to justify its aimless length.

Brie previously proved a deft hand at making unlikable romantic leads likable in the pleasantly subversive Sleeping With Other People, but she is ill-served by the script she co-wrote with Baena. She plays Amber, a disaffected and downtrodden manager at a Macaroni Grill-esque chain called Tuscan Grove who wins a competition to fly to Italy on the company's dime.

Bafflingly moonstruck over founder Nick (Nivola), she flirts with the idea of being whisked off her feet by the family-sized-serving pasta tycoon. Mooning like a dime-store novel teen heroine – a character beat at odds with the world-weary thirtysomething glimpsed in the opening montages – she giddily engages in a surprisingly chaste tryst on his yacht, bafflingly oblivious to the obvious reality that she's nothing more than a notch in his mizzenmast.

It's hard to engage when the rest of the cast is working with the thinnest of character outlines: overextended cameos that vary between grating and wasted potential. In the former category goes Shannon as Deb, a single-sketch SNL type, friendless and volatile, blown up to a supporting role, and one of several characters that give the humor a mean-spirited, punching-down energy when it comes to working stiffs. By contrast, Nivola (The Art of Self-Defense, The Many Saints of Newark) definitely falls into the latter category as the manipulative and emotionally stunted Nick. Even more so is Sinclair as Craig, the eye-rolling retreat manager constantly frustrated by these visiting naifs. He and Heidecker, as the pretentious chef who was once on some culinary competition show, get to indulge in some entertaining moments that feel less like completed scenes and more like improv experiments.

But this is the shaded outline of a film, as if the cast is trying to work in broad strokes while still underplaying, like they're in the first stages of rehearsal. Amber is likable but intolerably stupid, jumping through rom-com cliches that seem completely at odds with whatever points Baena is trying to make about trying to live the Eat Pray Love life in the real world. Everything is thrown into the grinder of a ridiculous final act that shreds any subtextual nuance about workplace power dynamics, sexual antics, and blind romance. After floundering around, unsure of its exact tone, Spin Me Round seems to settle on some kind of Blake Edwards-lite farce, but devoid of any gusto. It's also noteworthy that Plaza (soft-pedaling as Nick's assistant/Ghislaine Maxwell-esque sexual fixer Kat) disappears around this point. Maybe her vacation was over and she had to skedaddle back to the set of a better film, like Emily the Criminal. At least she got a few days in Italy, though.

Spin Me Round is in cinemas and available on AMC+ now.

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Spin Me Round, Jeff Baena, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Alessandro Nivola, Molly Shannon, Tim Heidecker, Zach Woods, Fred Armisen, Debby Ryan, Lil Rel Howery

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