Everyone goes to Italy for the same reason. No matter if you’re going to San Gimignano, where cypress trees march in rows against open skies, or Cinque Terre, where pastel-hued villages cascade down to hidden coves, the country is a dream destination for those who want to live in the moment. It’s what drew me to come here this summer, and it’s what draws Amber (Alison Brie) to take a trip to Tuscany in Jeff Baena’s latest IFC comedy, Spin Me Round.
It’s a delight to wander this country, both in person and on screen, but things can go wrong here just like anywhere else. As written and directed by Baena, Spin Me Round brings inherent chaos to a place where nothing seems hectic and everything seems pristine. Making films about out-of-control situations (Horse Girl, The Little Hours) has become second nature to Beana and his longtime collaborator Brie. Here they once again set us up for vacation, then take us on a wine tour through vineyards ripe with blood.
Amber manages an Italian restaurant that has more in common with McDonalds than it does Milan. Her job is put on hold when she’s selected for a program that sends managers to Tuscany, where they stay in a villa and learn to cook pasta. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Not when she is sent to a hotel next door, and learns that she can’t stroll the countryside unless it’s by guided tour. It’s not long before she meets Jen (Ayden Mayeri), Fran (Tim Heidecker), Deb (Molly Shannon) and Dana (Zach Wood), all of whom run their own restaurants.
They all gather together in the kitchen for lessons, but it’s not exactly clear what they’re supposed to be learning. Something is off about the whole program, which becomes even more apparent when the CEO Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola) waltzes in like a waiter from the “Il Cantore” sketch on SNL. (Some SNL alums makes appearances by coincidence). He kisses every female on the lips and then asks his assistant (Aubrey Plaza) to escort Amber to his yacht for an afternoon of soft, sun-dappled romance. Amber throws herself into his arms, but soon realizes he’s kind of a freak, sort of a douche and possibly behind some recent disappearances in Toscana. Along the way, she’ll have to find out if he’s evil or just a guy who likes whips.
The story is predictable but also fantastical and utterly delectable, allowing the audience to engage in escapist pleasures that have been a staple of cinema for decades. Based on a real trip to Italy, and written by someone who admires the culture, Spin Me Round rides on the white-linen coattails of Mafioso and Under the Tuscan Sun, which shares much narrative DNA. It’s a treat to watch Brie slip into the part of Diane Lane, especially since she usually plays characters who are much more guarded and down-to-earth.
The film spins around her endlessly energetic performance as Amber. It wouldn’t be believable without her in the role, and she nails the happiness, loneliness, jubilation and intoxication of a solo traveler in Italy. Her trip doesn’t have much in common with mine–I haven’t been invited to an Eyes Wide Shut party, not yet anyway–but there’s a universal truth in Baena’s message about how we idealize certain places based on what we’ve read, even if we don’t know what those places are actually like. The takeaway? There may be no better region than Tuscany for a getaway, but you should still take precautions before you go.
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