Spin Me Round
Spin Me Round; courtesy of IFC

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August has been a letdown at the movies. The underwhelming Bullet Train is the only major movie with blockbuster potential to open in theaters this month. Prey, with its gnarly kills and its centering of Indigenous experiences, was a hit on Hulu, whatever that means; the film had no theatrical release, and the streaming service doesn’t release numbers. It’s probably time to start looking at the fall schedule, but wait—what’s this? Spin Me Round, a comedy-mystery set in Italy and starring eminently charming Alison Brie (who also co-wrote the film) and delightfully unpredictable Aubrey Plaza? What’s that you say, the supporting cast is stacked with the smoldering Alessandro Nivola as a rich, dangerous love interest, comedy improv genius Zach Woods as the nice guy, and Molly Shannon as a classic Molly Shannon weirdo?

Sadly, a talented cast can’t save Spin Me Round, which seems to exist largely so that writer-director Jeff Baena could take his family (he’s married to Plaza) and friends (he worked with Brie in The Little Hours) to Italy during the pandemic. He could have come up with a stronger concept. Brie plays Amber, manager of an Olive Garden-like chain restaurant, who is chosen to participate in an exclusive training session conducted on the Italian estate of Nick Martucci (Nivola), the chain’s CEO and spokesperson. It sounds like paradise, until she and her fellow managers arrive and discover they’ve been put in a cheap motel, and their training consists of some very rudimentary cooking lessons and a VHS screening of Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful

Something is amiss, and it’s the film’s little game to let the audience try to parse out the mystery, but Amber’s suspicions are quieted when Nick takes a special interest in her, invites her onto his yacht, and whispers sweet nothings into her ear. The poster for Spin Me Round parodies a romance novel cover, and Amber is fashioned as one such devoted reader: lonely, suburban, and desperate. It’s a purposefully regressive view of women that the film works to overturn, but no amount of gender theory can make up for such a bland, underwritten character. Amber is not just unremarkable. She’s uninteresting, and while her dreary life and guarded emotions are gently interrogated, she comes off more as a hole at the center of Spin Me Round than an enigma with hidden depths. Brie has a proven ability to anchor a film—see the 2015 rom-com Sleeping With Other People, like, right now—but here it’s the script (which, to be fair, she co-wrote) that lets her down.

The film itself is a strange mix of comedy and mystery, in which the jokes aren’t particularly funny. Except for a third-act meltdown by Woods, there is nary a laugh to be found. At least Baena has a consistent style as a director; his 2017 film The Little Hours, a liberal adaptation of The Decameron about nuns gone wild, seemed set up to be a Mel Brooks-esque historical spoof, but instead it coasted on its premise and forgot to entertain. Spin Me Round suffers from a similar malady; instead of crafting actual comic scenarios—the cast is certainly game—or building a sense of true tension, Baena opts for a sustained sense of unease and dissatisfaction.

Even Plaza, as dependable a comic actor as we have, can’t rescue Spin Me Round from the depths of its own mediocrity, although a mid-film sequence in which her character, Nick’s disgruntled assistant, goes wild on the streets of Florence, dancing, getting in fights, and conning her way into a free meal at an exclusive restaurant, provides a tantalizing glimpse at a more lively film. But even then, the mischief simply sputters out, and Plaza, whose energy briefly transforms the viewer, disappears for the rest of the film’s uninvolving plot. What a shame. Spin Me Round doesn’t have much to work with, and doesn’t know what it’s got.

Spin Me Round opens in theaters on Aug. 19.