Spin Me Round
by Jeff Baena and Alison Brie
Duplass Brothers Productions
I love every actor in Spin Me Round. I love the concept. I love the movie poster. I’d follow Alison Brie and Aubrey Plaza anywhere. I was primed for a gentle, undemanding but enjoyable B grade range kind of movie. So it is with tears in my eyes that I ask: What the heck happened?
The following is a spoiler-filled review of a comfort movie gone as wrong as three-day old Olive Garden salad.
The plot is this: Alison Brie plays Amber, a manager of a restaurant chain that is basically Olive Garden with the serial numbers filed off – a place where all the ingredients are factory made and “cooking” consists of microwaving said ingredients.
Full disclosure: I am an Olive Garden apologist. Is it bland, homogenized, stuffed with fat, salt and sugar, and stripped of all the freshness and zest of actual Italian food? Yes, yes it is. Will I happily eat there as long as they keep giving me breadsticks? Heck yeah! For the longest time this was the only place that my husband and I could afford to go eat that had cloth tablecloths and menus that weren’t accompanied by crayons. I owe them. Also, their desserts are amazing.
So anyway, Amber wins a trip to the Not Olive Garden headquarters in Italy where she will spend a week learning cooking and other skills along with nine other managers, all of whom are comedic gold. But when she gets to the cooking school in Italy, there is an immediate red flag when their guide/coach for the trip takes everyone’s passports, which – no. A few minutes later this is followed by disappointment as it turns out that instead of staying in the beautiful villa on the trip brochure, the managers are staying in a mid-range motel. The next red flag is that they are told they are not to leave the motel or cooking school except on “supervised field trips.” Okaaayyyyy.
Several red flags later, Nick, the owner and founder of Not Olive Garden, played by the wonderfully slimy Alessandro Nivola (Intense stares! Self-deprecating chuckles! Emotional trauma – he’s SENSITIVE!) visits the class and singles out Amber, who looks a lot like his dead sister. There are not enough red flags in the world for this.
He has his manager, Kat, played by my beloved Aubrey Plaza, bring her to his yacht, which Amber cheerfully hops aboard despite the red flags waving everywhere including the fact that he will be just the two of them on the yacht, and he’s her boss, and she doesn’t know him. By the end of the day, he’s called her guarded, referred to her as a baby turtle who needs to come out of her shell, commented that she seems open to new experiences, told her about his dead sister, and invited her to a party . They make out and he, and then Kat who takes Amber back to the motel, both tell Amber to keep everything “on the DL.” because since Nick owns the company he’s Amber’s boss and they “don’t want anyone to think [Amber] is getting special treatment.”
That’s how Amber goes to Italy and finds love, thanks to luck, her innate charm and goodness, and the encouragement of, I shit you not, her Black best friend. The end.
Ha, ha, no of course that isn’t the end. For here on, SPOILERS ABOUND.
Amber puts on a red dress that was hands down the best thing about the movie – simple, elegant, understated, devastating. If I owned that dress I would wear the dress every day. Grocery shopping? Wear the dress. Taking my dog to the vet? Wear the dress. I would wear nothing but either that dress or pajamas all day all the time. Accept no middle ground, people. However, this dress cannot hold a candle to any of the AMAZING outfits worn by Molly Shannon, who plays that one person in any given group who is always complaining. Well done, costume department. Well done.
Anyway, at this party, everyone is very keen on praising Amber for being “open to new experiences” and it becomes clear that there are no boundaries here at all. Then Amber leaves the party with Kat and they go dancing and steal some food and make out in an alley, as one does.
From this point on the tone swerves wildly from a rom-com to mystery/thriller and I’m going to sum up a lot of hijinks in the broadest of strokes or we’ll be here all day.
The next day Nick seems to have moved on to another girl, Kat is gone, and Amber is a) crushed and b) deeply suspicious. She and her fellow manager Dana (a puppy-eyed Zach Woods) come up with a theory that Kat, or Nick, or Nick and Kat, are luring women to Italy for nefarious purposes. The story switches from a rom-com to a mystery to a very weird thriller until at last all is revealed, Amber goes home, Nick shows up at her Not Olive Garden branch in Bakersfield to win her back, she kicks him out, The End .
I appreciate that many expectations are thwarted in the course of the movie, but the movie is so busy thwarting expectations that it forgets to have a pay off. Neither Amber nor the other managers learn anything about cooking. They remain blissfully incapable of, for instance, identifying rosemary by smell. At the conclusion of all the hijinks, Dana gets an affectionate but platonic send off with nary a phone number exchanged. The big reveal comes consequence-free.
No one makes friends for life or goes through much character growth. Whether this lack of introspection and character development is a clever subversion or a total letdown depends on your point of view, but it left me flat and disappointed.
The one bit of character growth that we do get is that Amber is eventually able to tell off Nick for being a gaslighting, patronizing creep who is inappropriate with his employees. That’s great, but then we are left with Amber returning happily to her life as the manager of the Not Olive Garden in Bakersfield, California, gazing confidently at her reflection in the microwave oven. Really? This is it? A complete return to status quo but with a slightly more confident Amber?
There’s a lot of problematic stuff in the movie. The only black character is the Black Best Friend who is only shown on the phone, which is such an enormous waste of Ego Nwodim’s talents that it should be punishable by law. A steamy make out session between Amber and Kat is played purely for ‘girl on girl is hot’ and Kat vanishes from the movie immediately afterwards. The idea of a consensual orgy is treated with derision and disgust (although, to its credit, everyone involved in the orgy seems to be genuinely enjoying themselves and older adults are cheerfully included in the mix).
Tonally, the movie is all over the place. This is partly because its dark comedy premise revels in sudden escalation, but the escalations don’t always work. The abrupt inclusion of a lot of blood and a LOT of nudity in the, um, climactic scene is jarring, which might work for some viewers as a comedic element but really threw me off.
Ultimately, Spin Me Round is fun in the sense that a bunch of real-life friends hung out and made a movie together, and one gets the sense that they all had a good time. Good for them. For me, even though I could see what the movie was going for, it felt bland and disappointing and cringey and deeply unfunny. If I HAVE to consume a bland product, at least let it be a breadstick.