Spin Me Round

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Spin Me Round starts off as a comedy, evolves into a self-discovery drama, a romance, and eventually a mystery. Impressively, the film, directed by The Little Hours' Jeff Baena, makes those transitions smoothly, allowing them to co-exist naturally in a 104-minute space. Easily one of the year's quirkiest releases, it continually surprises you by going in unexpected directions. I found myself enthralled by the wild ride it took me on.

Amber (Alison Brie) works at an Olive Garden-like chain restaurant. Her manager, Paul (Lil Rel Howery), sends her to a corporate training program in Italy. The trip sounds like a recipe for the excitement and romance her life has been lacking. Once there, she encounters an eclectic group of fellow attendees. They are the depressive Deb (Molly Shannon), obnoxious TV cooking show contestant Fran (Tim Heidecker), fun-seekers Susie and Jen (Debby Ryan and Ayden Mayeri), and a guy named Dana (Zach Woods) who's way too glad to be there. Daily sessions are conducted by Ben (Ben Sinclair), a leader who isn't especially invested in what he's supposed to be teaching.

By far, the most interesting people Amber meets are the restaurant's charismatic owner Nick (Alessandro Nivola) and his right-hand woman Kat (Aubrey Plaza). Kat encourages her to break the rules by sneaking out at night to party at clubs. Nick shows a romantic interest in her. Intriguingly, Kat doesn't like Nick very much, a fact that makes Amber wonder what's really going on.

Whatever you think will happen next, you are wrong. Spin Me Round plays with certain conventions of foreign locale romances while subverting them at the same time. Amber does indeed get an adventure, just not one filled with serenity. The more she probes around, the more she realizes this whole training program isn't what it seems, nor is Nick, nor Kat, for that matter. The screenplay, written by Baena and Brie, plunks its lead character into a situation that gives her exactly what she craves in the exact opposite way that she wants.

That's a funny idea, made even funnier by the hilarious performances. Every actor has been cast perfectly, with all of them contributing to the madness in their own unique way. Many of the laughs come from how the disparate characters interact. Molly Shannon is a particular standout, morphing Deb from a (literal) Debbie Downer type into an angry jerk, quick to lash out at anybody who displeases her. These people don't know whether to like or hate each other – and they do both over the course of the story – which makes for an entertaining dynamic.

In the center is the Amber/Nick/Kat relationship. This is the best part of Spin Me Round. For the longest time, we don't know what the deal is here. Pieces gradually come together, revealing the kind of scenario where people are brought together out of need or personal exploitation. Person A has something Person B needs, Person C gets doors open for Person A, and so on. Nivola, Plaza, and Brie bring this idea out with comedic flair. The movie's portrait of dysfunctional entanglements is insightful in a manner you don't see coming.

If there's a notable blunder, it's the not-entirely-successful finale. It feels broader than necessary, as though the plot has to go off the rails to make Amber's arc work. The scramble to explain how everything ties together is rushed, as well. Nevertheless, the film makes up for it with a concluding scene that brings back the meaning. Spin Me Round contains some big laughs without sacrificing the core idea of Amber getting a new lease on life from her trip abroad. Jeff Baena and his amazing cast have made a degenerate version of Eat Pray Love that I found impossible to resist.

out of four

Spin Me Round is unrated, but contains adult language, drug content, and a brief scene of graphic nudity/sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.