“I feel like I’m dumping all this shit on you,” Kat (Aubrey Plaza), an exasperated assistant to a celebrity restaurateur, tells Alison Brie’s Amber shortly after they meet in Spin Me Round. Amber’s response is telling, both of her character, and of the movie as a whole. “You can shit on me,” she says with awkward cheer.
Spin Me Round brings back Horse Girl filmmaking-writing-acting team Jeff Baena and Brie for a bleak send-up of “woman gets her groove back” romantic fantasies. It sounds great on paper, but in practice it’s tonally incongruous and mean-spirited. Brie’s protagonist Amber does eventually gain strength and moral fiber from her experiences, but mostly the film is delighted to take frequent metaphorical dumps all over her, and her dreams.
Brie’s Amber manages the Bakersfield location of Tuscan Grove, an Olive Garden-esque restaurant chain owned by hunky Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola). When she’s selected for a restaurant-sponsored professional development retreat in Italy, the financially-strapped, romantically insecure Amber considers it an opportunity for a fresh start—she’s even brought a copy of Eat, Pray, Love along for the journey.
Of course, nothing goes as expected. The “villa” where Amber and her fellow managers stay is a cheap hotel sandwiched between Nick’s estate and a set of train tracks. The program guide, Craig (Ben Sinclair), seems determined to keep the participants from leaving the grounds. Beyond Amber, the rest of the group contains a swath of bizarre characters, including would-be chef Fran (Tim Heidecker), Tuscan Grove fanboy Dana (Zach Woods), and Deb (Molly Shannon), whose lost luggage triggers her increasingly unhinged behavior.
When Nick expresses romantic interest in Amber, it’s a welcome distraction from the program and an exciting prospect characterized by deep conversations, yacht trips, and expensive gifts. Amber also connects with Plaza’s Kat, Nick’s uber-cool assistant, whose ominous statements about her boss suggest there’s something unsavory beneath his handsome exterior. Like Tuscan Grove itself, nothing is as it appears.
The cast of Spin Me Round is stacked with regular Baena collaborators, and everyone implicitly understands the vibe. Sinclair is a particular standout, radiating malevolent smarm. Nivola continues his streak of sad-sack macho slimeball roles in a performance that requires him to be both suave and embarrassingly un-glamorous, both of which he pulls off effortlessly.
As Nick and Kat’s motives become more inscrutable, however, the film feels increasingly emotionally removed. Baena and Brie seem more interested in having Amber experience an escalating parade of unacceptable behavior than exploring actual emotional connections of the kind she quietly longs for. It feels like Amber is being punished for wanting a better life, even though she seems deserving of love, fulfillment, and a more rewarding career.
Spin Me Round has a few good performances to recommend—the folks you’d expect to hit it out of the park do, including Woods, whose character deserves a more developed arc than he gets. However, it’s hard to tell what the film wants to say about Amber and her dreams, and what is apparent seems needlessly unpleasant.
Fantasies like Amber’s are inherently ridiculous, but they’re based in legitimate emotional desires. Here, those desires are a punchline, as if Baena and Brie think a dead-end job and a lonely apartment are the best anyone deserves. Coming from two successful artists who likely made more off this single film than the characters they depict make in a year, that sentiment rings extra hollow. God forbid we mere mortals strive for anything more.
“Spin Me Round” is in theaters, on demand, and streaming on AMC+ on Friday.