There is a certain appeal to chain restaurants. They are reliably consistent in different places and are often family-friendly with their menu choices. What they are typically not is sophisticated and high-brow, but that doesn’t stop them from marketing themselves as such. For a manager who dumps alfredo sauce out of a bag, the prospect of an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy to get to know the culinary origins of an Italian restaurant’s menu would certainly be appealing, but as is the case in Spin Me Round, what’s promoted in a brochure or a TV ad is almost always more enchanting than the real thing.
Amber (Alison Brie) has never left the United States, and she warmly welcomes the opportunity to travel to Italy as a result of her stellar performance at Tuscan Grove. When she arrives, she is intrigued to learn about the art of Italian cuisine, but is distracted by the extremely handsome and charming founder of the company, Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola), and his assistant Kat (Aubrey Plaza), who wants to take her out for unauthorized evening activities. Initially drawn in by both of them, Mandy begins to suspect that there is something suspicious and concerning at play.
Spin Me Round comes from director Jeff Baena, who co-wrote the script with Brie following their collaboration on Horse Girl two years ago. It also reteams Baena with his wife and frequent muse Plaza, who starred in Life After Beth and The Little Hours. Baena’s first screen credit was as co-writer of I Heart Huckabees, a truly bizarre film that should set appropriate expectations for this lighthearted comedy, which isn’t nearly the head trip that David O’Russell film was but still does traffic in strangeness and peculiar characters.
While the Bakersfield location where Amber works doesn’t look quite the same, Tuscan Grove is clearly meant to be a send-up of Olive Garden, a place that advertises its culinary influences from Tuscany on its menus (this reviewer actually worked there as a waiter for a summer before college). A large percentage of moviegoers have surely been to an Olive Garden or another similar establishment in their lifetimes, which might make Amber’s genuine positivity and sincerity come as a surprise. This certainly is not a film that makes chains and the leadership programs they run look great, but it’s hardly a gross-out comedy like Waiting… or The Slammin’ Salmon.
What makes Spin Me Round work well as an accessible parody is the talent in front of the camera. Brie, whose career has included TV roles in Community and GLOW, has proven herself capable of anchoring films in the past like Sleeping with Other People and Horse Girl. She serves as a great stand-in for the audience, optimistic about the beauty and allure of Italian culture that she gets to experience but naturally cautious about the strangeness of the way she is being treated and the eccentric collection of fellow attendees.
Both Nivola and Plaza enhance any project they are in and are perfectly cast. Molly Shannon, Ayden Mayeri, Tim Heidecker, Debby Ryan, and Zach Woods make up the crew of other managers joining Amber, contributing strongly to the uncomfortable awkwardness of many scenes that leads to comedy, with Lauren Weedman and Ben Sinclair serving as the generally humorless leaders of the training. As the nature of the mystery comes to light, the script takes a few questionable pivots on the way to a fitting ending. Like Amber’s trip, Spin Me Round may not be a transformative, life-changing experience, but it is memorable and has its moments.
Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.
Spin Me Round premieres in theaters, on demand, and AMC+ on Friday, August 19th.