Spin Me Round' writer-director subverts expectations while embracing fan favorite tropes
September 12, 2022
Spin Me Round sets up a rom-com world: its poster looks like the cover of a romance novel, and the premise has that rom-com-y wish fulfillment element. Alison Brie’s Amber is being dipped dramatically by Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola), who found success beyond his wildest dreams with an Olive Garden-type franchise with some very memorable alfredo sauce. Amber, who has devoted almost a decade to Nick’s cheesy franchise, wins an all expenses paid trip to Italy to train with other managers. On the surface, a dream come true.
But this film is the brainchild of Jeff Baena (and Brie, who co-wrote the script). Baena is known for films like Horse Girl, The Little Hours, and for writing I Heart Huckabees. Baena relishes presenting one reality and immediately subverting that expectation. “It’s really fun to have an expectation and subvert that and to not fully let the audience know what they are getting into,” Baena elaborates.
When Amber arrives in Italy, things are instantly not as expected: the hotel is infested with silverfish; Ben Sinclair, who is proudly working as an ex-part coordinator for the program, would rather show movies than do any actual training; and a hysterical Molly Shannon (playing a fellow selected manager) would like to cop all of Amber’s wardrobe after her suitcase gets lost by the airline. It’s clear Baena is about to put Amber through a very unexpected trip, but the naïve Amber, who has rarely left Bakersfield, CA, has lots of room for growth. Baena comments, “I think more than anything, she learns how to assert and stand up for herself. Before that, she was more conditioned to let people walk all over her. She was more codependent and often in toxic relationships. The experience opened her up to speak for herself and have more self-esteem.”
When Aubrey Plaza enters the scene as Kat, the training week takes all kinds of unexpected turns. Kat is often doing Nick’s bidding as his assistant, but she’s also her own woman. She’s never afraid to stand up to her boss or tell any of the trainees what’s actually on her mind. But it does feel just as soon as Kat makes waves, she disappears into the Italian night. “I think when this movie begins we are seeing an end of an era of this program. Nick and Kat had this dynamic that sustained itself for a long time," Baena says, "but she became frustrated with Nick’s character and this one was her swan song. I think now she’s out there traveling the world and experiencing new people and places.”
While the film is a cautionary tale of high expectations easily shattered, it’s also a gorgeous delight. Shot by Sean McElwee (a long-time Baena collaborator), the world of Italy outside the hotel is often magical and entrancing. A lot of Baena's inspiration came from music: “I mean, on some level, when I first started writing this, I always envisioned the score being reminiscent of the Body Double score, which was scored by Pino Donaggio, who did end up doing our score. That was the most sort of premeditated cinematic influence. While Body Double is not similar in tone film-ically, that very specific score made me think of comedy thrillers. Also Manhattan Murder Mystery -- that's a funny movie because it subverts your expectations for a procedural thriller, and it places the characters in a prime position, and their neuroses help drive the plot, as opposed to just presenting a hardboiled detective. But for me, it’s ultimately just the story that takes first priority.”
Straight comedy is not always an easy sell, but Baena has found success never offering a super straightforward story. He also offers some advice for writers in a similar space: “Just always strive to do something unique, and don’t rely on other movies and other stories; just embrace that authentic voice. What’s the point of doing things that have been done before when there’s no voice like your own? At the end of the day, you want your script to speak for itself. There are plenty of actors out there willing to take a risk because they saw your vision.”
The film also boasts an incredible cast of comedians from all corners of iconic places like The Office and Saturday Night Live. “If you cast the right people, everything will fall into place," Baena says. "Also, when you have an amazing cast, just trust them and trust their instincts. Filmmaking is about collaboration. My last three films were all improv based films, which forces you to be open to things as they come and trust yourself and your performers. You know what drove you to create the piece; trust where you are coming from is true. Be open that there might be a better alternative conflict and obstacles that might be more original than you thought. That open energy forces you to be present and reconsider what you are doing. Just create opportunities to take chances, and go outside your comfort zone.”
Baena returns to his favorite open-ended ending with Spin me Round; while Amber gets a solid arc, it’s debatable what her future holds: “My favorite movies are all open-ended,” stresses Baena. “Movies like The Graduate, for example -- I just feel like the truest form of filmmaking, the filmmaking that lets you know this character is alive, does keep you guessing about what their life will be like when the movie is over. That’s the ultimate goal: to let the end feel like another beginning.”
Baena’s rom-com poster image feels right on (and memorable), but an image of spinning sad pasta with a glob of alfredo could’ve been just as fitting. It’s certainly an image that sticks with the audience in the end (and could be a catalyst for Amber’s new beginning.) Baena’s comment on the alfredo: “I’m not inclined to consume a creamy sauce.” Nevertheless, even if you’re not eating it, it doesn't mean that alfredo can’t still be life changing in that very alive and open-ended kind of way.
Spin Me Round is now available on VOD and AMC+.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/