Director Jeff Baena reunites his regular repertory players for “Spin Me Round,” another droll ensemble comedy that, like his 2017 nunsploitation riff “The Little Hours,” becomes an opportunity for genre experimentation and a trip to Italy.
“Spin Me Round” is co-written with his leading lady, Alison Brie, with whom he also wrote the 2020 film “Horse Girl,” a sci-fi tinged character study in which she starred. “Spin Me Round” pays homage to, and lightly parodies ’70s European erotic thrillers — it’s an indie comedy that flirts with the idea of being a giallo film, but doesn’t quite go all the way.
Baena’s stylistic flourishes, including a title bubbled in a retro baby-pink font, a swoony score by Italian composer Pino Donaggio and a lots of slow zooms (the cinematography is by Sean McElwee), tip the viewer off to the genre pastiche and conveys a sense of foreboding to the story, which takes place on an Italian retreat for the managers of an Olive Garden-style restaurant chain called Tuscan Grove.
The beautiful, melancholic Amber (Brie), manager of the Bakersfield franchise, has been selected for the program by her boss (Lil Rel Howery), and her best friend (Ego Nwodim) is convinced she’ll find love on her dreamy adventure in an Italian villa with hunky Tuscan Grove honcho Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola). However, when Amber arrives in Italy, she is greeted by disappointments and red flags. Handing over her passport, she finds everyone is staying in a dumpy motel with doors that don’t lock and a creepy guide, Craig (Ben Sinclair). The other managers turn out to be a group of oddballs too (Molly Shannon, Zach Woods, Tim Heidecker, Debby Ryan, Ayden Mayeri).
Nick’s sinister and sexy assistant Kat (Aubrey Plaza) soon enters the scene, whisking each woman away for secretive rendezvous on Nick’s yacht in La Spezia and risky adventures in the streets of Lucca. The whole strange scenario screams “coven of witches,” and “human sacrifice ritual,” or, more realistically, “Eyes Wide Shut,” and fueled by jealousy and suspicion, Amber starts to pull the thread on the mystery in front of her.
She confronts Nick, accusing him of gaslighting and manipulating her, but as the story unravels in unexpected (but totally expected) ways, Baena both subverts and fulfills the genre expectations he’s been pointing at, which is a rug pull and not at the same time.
Truthfully, it’s a bit frustrating. Baena only lightly gestures at the genres he’s referencing, never fully commiting to the bit. “Spin Me Round” is engaging, thanks to the large cast of talented comedians, but it’s not really a parody, not quite an homage. It remains in indie comedy mode, meaning it never has to be earnest or pick a tone or deliver the splashy aesthetic excess of the genres that it indicates.
The entire film feels like an exercise in dashing expectations — for both our heroine and the audience. Amber’s hopes of a big Italian romance fizzle alongside our expectation for a wild Euro thriller. Perhaps that subversion, bringing the heightened back down to the realm of the mundane, is the lesson that we’re to take away from “Spin Me Round,” an interesting if dispiriting direction to take.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
‘Spin Me Round’
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood; Laemmle Town Center, Encino; also available on VOD and on AMC+
Source by www.latimes.com