Spin Me Round

Posted on August 18, 2022 at 5:25 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril, characters injured, some graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 19, 2022

Copyright 2022 IFC Films
Director Jeff Baena is developing something of a repertory company and something of a genre all his own that could be called “high concept deranged farce.” He co-wrote one of my favorite films, “I Heart Huckabee’s,” a story about a department store, some environmental activists, complex existential philosophical concepts that was hilarious and bracingly smart. In his other films, wild, out of control behavior occurs in a medieval convent populated by highly impious foul-mouthed nuns (“The Little Hours”) and a dead girlfriend returns as a zombie (“Life After Beth”). Actors who have appeared in two or more of his films include his wife, Aubrey Plaza, and Alison Brie (her husband, Dave Franco appeared in “The Little Hours”), and “SNL” veterans Molly Shannon and Fred Armison. All of them are brilliant at exactly the combination of heightened circumstance and deadpan delivery he specializes in, and all of them clearly enjoy it.

His latest film, “Spin Me Round” does not just star Alison Brie; she wrote it as well. She plays Amber, who has worked for nine years at an Italian Garden-style restaurant in Bakersfield, California, called Tuscan Grove. As the movie opens, we see the industrial operations of the restaurant chain, with Alfredo sauce squeezed out of pre-packaged bags onto microwaved all-you-can-eat pasta. Amber is very professional and respected by her colleagues. Her boss, played by Lil Rel Howery, has a surprise for her; he has submitted her name for a special study session in Tuscany sponsored by their parent company. and she has been selected. Amber is thrilled. She has never been to Europe and it looks like a fabulous adventure, and, maybe, with the possibility of romance.

But this is one of those stories that starts out like a Hallmark movie and turns into a Lifetime movie.

Amber is still in “please the customer” mode and determined to bring the same upbeat, can-do spirit that made her successful at the restaurant. So when things begin to go wrong after her arrival she is sunny and helpful. Another attendee is Deb (Shannon), pouting over a lost bag, and Amber offers to loan her anything she needs, modestly assuring Deb, “I overpacked.” It turns out they are not staying in the beautiful villa pictured on the website but in a generic little motel with no locks on the doors nearby. When asked to turn over their passports and stay within the compound, she agrees. The promised lessons on Italian culture and cuisine are dull and basic. One of the other attendees is an ambitious chef (Tim Heidecker) who wants to teach the others about haute cuisine and molecular gastronomy, but no one cares.

The founder of the Tuscan Grove is Nick (Alessandro Nivola, always great), a dissolute yacht-owning zillionaire with surface charm and, clear to us at least, no interest in anything but pleasure. His assistant, Cat (Plaza) wakes Amber up and takes her to Nick’s yacht. While the others are in a boring class about herbs, she is living a Cinderella dream.

But then things start to get weird. Some of the other participants disappear. Amber starts to investigate and the storyline and tone take a swerve.

The last 20 minutes and he ending do not make a lot of sense. It’s pretty random. The script may be more a role Brie wants to play than a story she wants to tell. But the performances are excellent, especially Shannon, Plaza, and Brie herself, all precise and consistent despite the shifts. Shannon is funny and scary as the volatile over-sharer, both with confidences and with Amber’s clothes. Plaza, as always, is a master of deadpan with an underlay of recklessness. She and Brie play off each other beautifully as Amber tries hard to be a “good girl” and is scared and a little thrilled at finding her tendency to go along leading her to cross some boundaries she would never have considered in Bakersfield. I hope Baena keeps this repertory company going.

Parents should know that this movie has very explicit sexual situations and nudity, including group sex, and very strong language. Characters drink alcohol. There is some peril and there are some graphic and disturbing images of injuries.

Family discussion: Is there a point where Amber should have asked more questions? Why was the kind of restaurant so important to the story?

If you like this, try: Baena’s other films

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How to be Single

Posted on February 11, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Drew Barrymore — you know I love you but how does your Flower Films production company produce a film about female friendship and empowerment that barely passes the Bechdel test? how to be single

And did we really need a thinly disguised remake of “He’s Just Not That Into You?” I know it’s Valentine’s Day and the time feels right for a girls’ night out movie, but despite its entertaining moments, I’d go for “Star Wars” again over this.

Now, on to the entertaining moments. This is one of those “three girls looking for love” or “three girls looking for love or its close equivalent” stories with cute guys, cute clothes, cute apartments, cute problems, and cute pop songs on the soundtrack. Yes, get ready for “Worth It.” Again. It’s the new “I Feel Good.”

Alice (adorable Dakota Johnson) breaks up with her college boyfriend Josh (Nicholas Braun). She loves him, but they’ve been together four years and she does not know who she really is anymore. She needs to be on her own for a while, she tells him. It’s not a break-up; it’s just a break. Her new friend Robin (Rebel Wilson doing her usual shtick) reminds her that “Hey, Season Three Ross, there’s no such thing as being on a break.” Robin encourages her to drink, dance, and have meaningless sex with a cute bartender named Tom (Anders Holm of “The Intern”) who is the master of the one-night stand.

Alice has an older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann), an obstetrician who wants to have a baby. And then there is Lucy (Alison Brie), who lives above Tom’s bar and goes there to use his wi-fi to scroll through endless dating site profiles and complain about how DIFFICULT it is to find a presentable man who will COMMIT. This entire section is pretty much ripped off from the Justin Long/Ginnifer Goodwin part of “He’s Just Not That Into You” by the same screenwriters.

Johnson and Brie are adorable, and up-and-comer Jake Lacy (“Carol,” “Obvious Child”) is very appealing as one of Alice’s co-workers who likes Meg. But it is disappointing that it claims to be about the importance of taking responsibility for your own life and your own dreams, and apparently it is written by and very loosely based on a novel by women who are capable in jobs they find satisfying. But Alice seems to have no interest in her job as a paralegal and is as clueless about what it takes to be a professional as she is about even the most basic of daily tasks. She literally cannot dress herself. And learning to do so is portrayed as a major life achievement. Her romance with a handsome widower (an underused Damon Wayans, Jr.) makes little sense and her BFF relationship with Robin makes even less. In fact, there isn’t one relationship in the movie that makes us think they could have an actual conversation or even have much fun together.

“How to be Single” is more like a series of skits at a sorority slumber party than a story with characters. If Alice, Robin, Meg, and Lucy went out for a girls’ night at the movies, they’d choose something else.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong sexual content with many casual encounters, explicit sexual humor and sexual situations, and brief nudity, very strong and crude language, drinking and drugs.

Family discussion: What was the most important lesson Alice learned from each of the men she dated? Why did she listen to Robin?

If you like this, try: “He’s Just Not That Into You,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” and “Think Like a Man”

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