Director/writer Jeff Baena and co-writer/star Alison Brie give the ‘Eat Pray Love’ genre of film a more thrilling twist in their SXSW premiere of ‘Spin Me Round.’ Through a spoofed cinematic Olive Garden commercial, Baena introduces us to Tuscan Grove’s dreamy CEO Nick Martucci, played by Allessandro Nivola, and in a less glamorous parallel life, Amber (Brie), the GM of one of their local franchises.
The premise is quickly established when Amber’s boss, Lil Rel Howery, recognizes her nine-year commitment to the company by awarding her a once-in-a-lifetime immersive Tuscan Grove experience at the Italian villa where Martucci lives. As a viewer, you recognize the villa’s promotional video as something that feels a little too good to be true, like a cheap exotic timeshare or phone call for a free cruise, but Brie’s performance gives Amber the wide-eyed naivety of a dreamer who is smitten with the opportunity to break free from her suburban lifestyle. With knowledge of what brought sweet, innocent Amber back to her job at the Tuscan Grove, you do hope to see this as a real opportunity for a better life and a little romance, but that’s precisely where this film strays from the standard mid-life crisis narrative.
After Amber arrives at the villa, she effortlessly unlocks behind-the-scenes access to Martucci, thanks to a suspicious meet cute and his assistant Kat (Aubrey Plaza). In this role, Plaza plays something between a disgruntled employee and Ghislaine Maxwell (eek), but provides a lot of the film’s central mystery making with her cookie crumb clues and cryptic interactions. The chemistry between Amber and Kat is purposefully intense, but ultimately a bit disappointing after Kat disappears before it feels their storyline is complete.
While Amber at first experiences Italy differently than her ragtag group of franchise colleagues played by Ayden Mayeri, Debby Ryan, Molly Shannon and Zach Woods, her naivety is soon shattered bringing her closer to Wood’s character, Dana, as co-detectives in the unfolding mystery. Tall, goofy and unassuming, Woods always plays a character worth a laugh on any screen, and in the multiverse of ‘Spin Me Round,’ is likely who Kat’s character would have found a romance with on any other trip.
This film jumps genres throughout, but was working best when it was in mystery-horror mode, leading to some real suspense in the last 20 minutes. There is notably good comedic writing, but some of the on-screen performances and chemistry did not always result in laughs from the crowd.
By the end of the film, there is some unexpected sympathy for Martucci. While I don’t resonate with his rich guy plea for a second chance, one of my favorite moments reveals that he had very specifically told Amber what the “twist” would be while she absentmindedly “listened” to him tell his life story.
And while the rest of the film takes turns that are different from the “you must travel to find yourself” genre, it does stick to the narrative where Amber decides that where she wants to be is actually right where she started, microwave alfredo and all.