The Spool / Festivals
SXSW 2022: Spin Me Round wastes its promising comedic ingredients
Jeff Baena’s lifeless mysterious comedy will leave you scratching your head in all the wrong ways
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Jeff Baena’s lifeless mysterious comedy Spin Me Round will leave you scratching your head in all the wrong ways

(This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 South by Southwest festival)

Amber (Allison Brie), the protagonist of Spin Me Round, isn’t much for spontaneous vacations. She’s usually spending any of her waking hours as a dutiful manager at the Italian eatery Tuscan Vineyard. But one day, one of her superiors gives her the notice that she’s been chosen to travel to a retreat with a handful of other people to the company’s headquarters in Italy. Now is the time for some relaxing, fun, and maybe, just maybe, some romance.

Once Amber arrives, though, things quickly turn out to be different compared to her expectations. For one thing, the whole excursion is overseen by the controlling Craig (Ben Sinclair). For another, Amber quickly catches the eye of her company’s founder, Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola). This unexpected romance, spurred on by the aid of Marucci’s assistant Kat (Aubrey Plaza), sends Amber’s head into a spin. However, suspicious activities and missing guests quickly have her wondering if there’s something sinister happening in this delectable paradise. 

Some movies are invigorating in how their plots seem to unfurl organically, with scripts that simulate the sensation that viewers are watching something unfold in real time. Spin Me Round is the worst-case scenario of that approach. The screenplay, by Brie and Jeff Baena (the latter of whom also directs) constantly flails to figure out where to take its story next. Its abrupt twists and turns don’t feel naturally spontaneous, but rather desperate attempts to figure out what to do with an Italian backdrop and a collection of game comedic actors.

A key issue here is what 99% of movies suffer from, and that’s a lack of Aubrey Plaza. When she first enters the proceedings, Plaza carries a twinkle of unpredictability in her eye and chaotic energy radiating all over her body. She’s got the kind of concrete personality and immediately engaging aura that so many of the Spin Me Round characters desperately lack. Whenever she’s on-screen doing things like threatening handsy dudes on the dance floor with a busted wine bottle to the throat, the movie can’t help but come alive.

Allison Brie in Spin Me Round (SXSW)

But just as you’re more aware than ever of a rainy day after a brief burst of sunlight, the tedium of scenes not involving Plaza becomes extra apparent whenever she’s not around. Even worse, Plaza outright vanishes from the movie for inexplicable reasons at the halfway mark. With its best asset gone, Spin Me Round becomes a downright chore to get through. No movie featuring Tim Heidecker and Fred Armisen in key supporting roles should be this straightforward and lifeless.

They, along with so much else of Spin Me Round, would be better served if the screenplay could serve up some better gags. Alas, the humor here falls flat as a result of Dane and Brie’s writing, often deciding excess itself is funny. For instance, supporting player Zack Wood abruptly gets upgraded to co-lead status in the third act seemingly just for a scene where he screams a lot during a meeting between the other attendees of the retreat. Neither his increased presence nor his loud noises inspire even the barest of titters.

Pouring salt on the filmmaking wounds, Spin Me Round doesn’t offer anything interesting in either its story or characters to compensate for the dire lack of gags. Any mystery elements of the plots end up going in the expected routes for R-rated indie American comedies. Amber, meanwhile, doesn’t function well as a lead character on any level. Whether you look at her as a vehicle for audiences to engage in wish-fulfillment fantasies or to make you laugh, she’s just too vaguely defined to shape a whole movie around. On every level narratively, Spin Me Round is asleep at the wheel.

Baena’s directing is similarly lifeless, a shocking development since you’d imagine all the beautiful Italian landscapes could result in some similarly gorgeous backdrops to distract the viewer. But the limited number of dreary interior locales that the story occupies means that Daena never utilizes the full visual opportunities afforded to him by Spin Me Round’s main setting. Whether it’s Italian scenery or other seemingly can’t miss aspects like a committed Molly Shannon, Spin Me Round tends to waste promising elements at its disposal.

Though not devoid of laughs (how could Shannon not elicit some giggles?), Spin Me Round is a bizarrely lifeless affair with little ambition to its name save for a reliably zesty performance from Aubrey Plaza. Jeff Baena is aiming to deliver a slow-burn comedy punctuated by humorous absurdity. Unfortunately, all he’s come up with is opaque and tedious. Those looking to make this a destination for quality indie comedy filmmaking would be wise to alter their travel plans.