[Editor’s note: The following story contains some spoilers for “Spin Me Round.”]
It’s difficult to dispute Aubrey Plaza’s versatility. From embarking on a credit card-swiping crime spree in “Emily the Criminal” to just maybe being the new Lara Croft in a “Tomb Raider” reboot (what, us and Edgar Wright can all dream!) and even taking apart the very concept of acting in “Black Bear,” Plaza has gone out of her way to deconstruct any attempts at typecasting her.
So when “Spin Me Round,” the fourth collaboration with longtime creative partner and husband Jeff Baena, placed Plaza back in Italy after “The Little Hours” and upcoming Sicily-set Season 2 of “The White Lotus,” it was clear no one knew what to expect of her character. And boy, does Plaza keep us on our toes in the dark comedy that simultaneously subverts rom-com expectations and tells an all-to-true #MeToo story enhanced by a subtly slimy flavor that infects what should be a lush Tuscan getaway.
In the film, Alison Brie stars as Amber, a manager at fast food restaurant Tuscan Grove who wins a “very Americanized” corporate retreat to Italy. While her fellow top-earning managers, played by Molly Shannon, Zach Woods, Tim Heidecker, and Debby Ryan, are also attending the company seminars, Amber catches the attention of company founder Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola). Plaza stars as Nick’s assistant Kat who seems to be both warning Amber of Nick’s intentions and trying to seduce Amber for herself.
As writer-director Baena recently told IndieWire, the film is rooted in the expectation versus reality trope. And much like the twists and turns of the plot, Brie’s Amber expected (and was pressured) to fall for corporate boss Nick, when in fact she had more sparks with Kat.
“The idea was always to have [Aubrey] play that part,” Baena told IndieWire. “I know, especially after ‘Happiest Season’ when people were vying for Aubrey and Kristen Stewart’s character to be together, that was definitely in our minds when we were writing this because Alison was also in that movie. When I was conceiving this project, I think there was always that tension between that character and the main character. There is a deep contradiction in terms of their dynamic with what their intentions are. I think Aubrey was able to play that in such a subtle and interesting way instead of playing a villain or a victim, and she kind of thread the needle between the two. I’m spoiled in the sense that I have easy access to her, but I’m always amazed by her performances and how brilliant she is and what she brings to the table in terms of intensity and intention.”
The “complicated dynamic” between Kat and Amber isn’t just due to the obvious love triangle: Amber later discovers that Kat was actually tasked with selecting the prettiest woman in the managers program to become Nick’s fling for the corporate retreat every year. So, was Kat the real perpetrator here?
“To me, this movie, where it sort of starts off, is the end of an era of this program,” Baena explained, citing the “dying gasps” of an “obviously corrupt” corporate program. “We’re seeing somewhat of an enlightened person when they would normally be a henchmen doing messed up stuff. In all the movies that I make, I like to think the people who are ultimately the antagonists are not evil. I try not to have evil villains. I try to have complicated people that make bad decisions and do things that are hurting people because I think that’s what life is like: There’s not necessarily evil people, there’s just people with intentions that are at odds at other peoples’ intentions and maybe their morality is different than yours.”
Baena added, “I wanted something authentic and confusing. I think that tension between ‘should they be together or is this too complicated?,’ [is something] we wanted to explore a bit deeper. Anything that involves that sort of awkward tension I’m drawn to. It’s not cut and dry. It’s not simple.”
Star and co-writer Brie cited her natural chemistry with Plaza after co-starring in Baena’s “The Little Hours” together. “I love acting with Aubrey. I think she’s so talented and she feels a little dangerous,” Brie said. “She’s capable of being so in the moment and unexpected and you’re not sure what’s going to happen, and that is sort of the dynamic between these two characters. Probably because I feel so comfortable with Aubrey, it’s really easy for me to just be in character, in the moment with her, and I think you feel it in all of our scenes.”
Plaza read early drafts of the script and gave notes, while Brie’s husband and fellow “The Little Hours” alum Dave Franco stayed more in the dark about details, including the smooch between Brie and Plaza.
So, is Plaza’s status as a “Spin Me Round” standout due to Kat’s elusive behavior or Plaza’s inherent ability to completely make a role her own?
“I’m always drawn to actors who have a real good sense of comedy but are also able to pull off drama, or are writer themselves. I think it’s hard to find people who can kind of vacillate between those two places,” a slightly-biased Baena said. “No one knows the characters as deep as the actors who are playing them, ultimately.”
IFC Films releases “Spin Me Round” in theaters, on VOD, and streaming on AMC+ on Friday, August 19.