ALL ABOUT NINA
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eva Vives
Screenwriter: Eva Vivas
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Common, Chace Crawford, Clea DuVll, Kate del Castillo, Beau Bridges
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/29/18
Opens: September 28, 2018
Life is easy. Comedy is hard. Does Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the title role prove the theory? Yes and no. Nina Geld (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) at first discovers the converse: that life is hard but comedy is easy. She is having an affair with Joe, (Chace Crawford), a married cop, with whom she has sex multiple times but who slaps her around. “He’s a cop. What did you think?” is more or less the way Nina describes the relationship. She loves the sex. She may even like the brutality. We find out why later, near the conclusion of the film, but early on she has to get away from this guy. She moves to L.A. to escape and find a new life while continuing as a stand-up comic.
“All About Nina” is anchored by a powerhouse performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appears in virtually every frame, an actress well known to moviegoers for such pics as Dan Trachtenberg’s “10 Cloverfield Lane,” where her character is held in a shelter by two men who claim that the world is falling victim to a chemical attack. For her part, director Eva Vives has dabbled in experimental themes such as her recent “Swiss Army Man,” about a guy stranded in a desert island who befriends a dead body, moving on his way to get home. “All About Nina” is not so unconventional but then again Vives is able to evoke a nuanced performance from Winstead in a story that begins as a comedy featuring Nina delivering sex-based shtick in a comedy club, and concludes with her coming to terms with her demons by exposing them to an audience at the risk of her career.
After Nina moves in with her agent’s Mexican-American friend Lake (Kate del Castillo), a meeting that provides fodder for some comic touches, she meets Rafe (rapper Common, who has some 60 film credits), whose shaved head, full beard, and gentle demeanor may just bring Nina out of her funk She is able to spend time with a guy rather than write off all her boyfriends as one-night stands. Continuing on her path toward a more secure career, she auditions with Comedy Prime’s boss Larry Michaels (Beau Bridges), a man who could launch a career beyond just comedy corners, but must compete against women for the one female shot in the show.
(Some may find it surprising that comedy houses like New York’s Comedy Central consider men to be funnier than women, even while we note that Nina is able to out-raunch the best of them in a motor-mouthed, sometimes hilarious patter about bodily functions.)
If Winstead is at the top of her game, Common is no slouch as Rafe, his gentle way of talking (surprising for the contractor he alleges he is) is not feeding her a line—knowing that a cynical Nina is familiar with the best of them. It’s difficult to believe that a woman whose deep-seated problems, not discussed even with women friends, could lose her fear of intimacy with any male, but both the days she spends with Rafe and her final shot when performing at L.A.’s most important comedy house are able to exorcise her demons. What’s more they propel Mary Elizabeth Winstead into the elite circle that may well consider her performance by various film groups right up to the Oscars.
99 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+