Spin Me Round: News of a Love Bombing, by David Bax
As of Spin Me Round, I’ve now only seen two of Jeff Baena‘s five feature films (the other being 2017’s The Little Hours). But I’m starting to get a handle on what his whole thing is and I think I like it. First, he gets an incredible cast together. I could spend a whole paragraph listing the actors in Spin Me Round but the main players are Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Alessandro Nivola, Molly Shannon, Zach Woods and Tim Heidecker and, beyond them, there’s hardly a single line spoken in the entire movie by someone who’s not a notable name, generally from the comedy world. Then, he plugs them into a story that sounds like–and I mean this in a good way, I swear–an idea someone came up with off the top of their head during an exercise in a creative writing class.
This time around, the prompt is, without giving away any of the movie’s many delightfully odd turns, something along the lines of, “What if there was something weird and possibly sinister behind the Olive Garden’s ‘When you’re here, you’re family’ ethos?” Brie plays Amber, the manager of a Bakersfield “Tuscan Grove” franchise (an obvious OG stand-in) who is selected to go on a corporate manager’s retreat and training exercise at the Italian villa of the chain’s founder, Nick (Nivola). Nick takes a liking to her and sends his assistant (Plaza) to pluck her away from the group and spend time at his side. Suddenly, she’s gone from wearing pins that say “Pasta La Vista” and “Sip Happens” to riding on private yachts and attending lavish parties in designer gowns.
As with The Little Hours, the overall look of Spin Me Round is basic, high-key comedy stuff. Everyone is lit and framed so that you can see what they’re doing with little other consideration. That the movie was shot by Sean McElwee, who has done impressive work repeatedly with Chad Hartigan (This Is Martin Bonner, Little Fish) is a testament to Baena’s intentionality here. He wants you to focus on the performers.
And it pays off. Many of the characters here feel like they were developed by the comedians themselves. Heidecker as the chain restaurant manager who thinks he’s a Top Chef-caliber cook; Shannon as the woman who’s clingy, insecure and completely unable to read the room; Fred Armisen as an eccentric millionaire artist. All of these are specifically within each actor’s wheelhouse.
Spin Me Round is not simply a collection of character sketches, though. It does have a comedic and thematic through-line, which is mostly that obscenely wealthy people have such bizarrely different relationships with the world and reality as to come off dangerous and threatening. When Amber meets Armisen’s sculptor, you can practically see her debating between fight and flight.
Yet, the film is not without perspective. Baena does seem to consider the “affluenza” argument that men like Nick who wield their power injudiciously over their employees are so sealed off from the real world that they may not always realize that’s what they’re doing. But, Spin Me Round ultimately concludes, fuck that. That’s their problem, not their victims and they still need to face consequences. Being sympathetic doesn’t mean you have to be excusing.