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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Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Posted on July 7, 2016 at 5:45 pm

mike and dave2So, two bros — literal, biological bros and bros in the bro-iest of spirits — advertised on Craigslist for wedding dates. This being America, that got them on talk shows, which led to a book deal, which led to a movie starring four of of Hollywood’s funniest young stars. Your ability to appreciate the result of this unstoppably bro-tastic marketing juggernaut will depend entirely on your tolerance for bro humor. Be warned; mine is pretty low. Your mileage may vary.

Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) love each other and their family. They love their life of awesome parties and wild hijinks. But their parents and sister Jeannie (Sugar Lyn Beard) stage an intervention. Jeannie is getting married in Hawaii and she would like them to tone it down, so she can have an elegant, civilized celebration, nothing requiring ambulances, fire engines, or lawyers.

They come up with an idea. The worst problems seem to occur when Mike and Dave are trying to impress or party with girls. If they can find some “nice, respectable, smart girls” to accompany them to the wedding as their dates, it will have a calming effect. So, committed to #doingitforjeannie but with no idea of where to find such nice stable ponies, they of course turn to the place one goes to find used furniture, Craigslist, leading to the Wendy Williams Show, where they are spotted by Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), two girls who are as irresponsible and wild as the brothers. But of course they have to hide that to appear suitable for this occasion and thus get two free tickets to a lavish party in Hawaii. “We’re going to flip the script and Bachelorette that s***.”

Okay, we all know where this is going. Lots of mayhem. Lots of substance abuse and outrageous behavior. An ATV stunt that leaves the bride looking like “burn victim Barbie.” An intimate massage. Many inappropriate comments to various wedding attendees.

But “oh, no, they didn’t” comedy about irresponsible and grossly inconsiderate behavior only gets you so far, even in a gorgeous setting. Four of the most talented, appealing, and very funny performers anyone could hope for cannot make what is essentially a 10-minute sketch into a movie.

Parents should know that this film has extremely graphic adult material with very crude sexual references and explicit situations, comic peril and violence with some injuries, drinking, drugs, and very strong and crude language.

Family discussion: What makes someone a good wedding date?  Why was it so hard for Mike and Dave to behave themselves?

If you like this, try: “Wedding Crashers,” “American Pie,” and “Saving Silverman”

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Trailer: Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever

Posted on November 6, 2014 at 8:00 am

I have to say I thought a Grumpy Cat movie was not a good idea, but this adorably meta trailer has just about won me over.  It will be broadcast Saturday, November 29th at 8/7c on Lifetime, and my prediction is that it will be popular enough to get a re-broadcast and a sequel.

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