All About Nina Review: Powerful Moving Tale of a Comic With Complexities
R: Strong sexual content and language throughout, some nudity and brief drug use
The Orchard, Diablo Entertainment
1 Hr and 37 Minutes
Writer/Director: Eva Vives
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Common, Chace Crawford, Jay Mohr, Kate del Castillo, Beau Bridges, Melonie Diaz, Mindy Sterling
My screenwriting professor Jodi Gibson is friends with the director Eva Vives and told me to watch this at Tribeca earlier this year when I was accredited as press. I saw 20 movies during the Tribeca Film Festival (yeah, I know that was a terrible idea) and “All About Nina” was the only one I didn’t get to see. So, basically I had to watch this no matter what. In hindsight, I’m now even angrier at myself for missing it.
Nina Geld (Winstead) is a bracingly funny and blisteringly provocative stand-up comedian whose career is taking off, but whose personal life is a near-complete disaster. To escape a difficult ex and to prepare for a prospectively life-changing audition, Nina flees to Los Angeles where she meets Rafe (Common), who challenges almost every preconception she has -- including those around her own deeply troubled past.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Ever since “Smashed” in 2012, Winstead has proven time and time again that, with each leading role she takes, she displays an incredible range and Nina is her most commanding yet. In this film she has to channel different moods, from being cynical and truthful to vulnerable and emotional, and she expertly retains your attention the whole time. This is a self-destructive character who is only at bliss when she has a mic.
When Nina is on stage, she is electrifying. You would typically see comics take on a role like this. Winstead is not a standup comedian, yet she’s able to capture the perfect persona of one. Her delivery and her dialogue just hit. I’ve been to plenty of comedy shows where some comics expressed Nina’s style of comedy. She’s not as explicit as Amy Schumer, but has her same boldness. Her style is a solid fusion of Krystyna Hutchinson and Sarah Silverman.
There is a scene where Winstead is doing an array of celebrity impersonations and god, SHE KILLS IT. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a comic queen and we stan. If her career goes to crap, [God forbid] she can go do stand up or Eva Vives can write a Nina comedy stand up special for Netflix so Winstead could perform it and that would be awesome. I might start a petition for it. Eva, if you’re reading this, PLEASE WRITE A COMEDY SPECIAL! I don’t care who performs it as long as you write it.
To deviate from the comedy, the writing of the characters is also incredible. While M.E.W. is the master on screen, it is Eva Vives’ strong writing and direction behind the scenes that makes the entire film profound. I love Nina and how she’s characterized where she is forward and truthful and honest, but that’s only on stage where she is able to find her release. Away from the stage she is secretive and still the standard societal woman. By that I mean the woman that society sees her as, which is unfortunately run by the horny white men of the world. On stage she is dominant and powerful, but offstage she’s subjected to toxic masculinity and abuse.
What I love about this movie is it’s accurate presentation of abusive relationships that we hardly dive into in film, and when it’s done it’s always a plot device. This film presents it as part of Nina’s character and the film’s central theme. She’s not perfect and has flaws like the rest of us, but you sympathize with her because of how poorly she’s treated by the world. Nina delivers a powerful monologue where she explains the terrible situation of her life and right after those three minutes of exposition you feel the stab in the chest like.
Nina being a survivor of abuse affects her character and it’s depressing, especially when it progresses in her character-driven story.
Then, Vives balances an accurate commentary about the competitive inner workings of the entertainment industry that centers on female comedians. Because the net of opportunities for female comics is so narrow, women are unable to support each other when one becomes successful. It reveals the grim truth of this occupation as accurately as “Don’t Think Twice” did in 2016, but in a more profound light.
Remember that year when Common was only playing antagonists in action films? Well, this year we’re seeing a major shift because he’s currently on a roll with “All About Nina”, “Smallfoot”, and “The Hate U Give”. It’s amazing to see him in more diverse roles and this is one of those. He’s just so adorable as a love interest. Once he interacts with Nina not only does he charm her, but he charms you as well. There are several lines of dialogue that had me going, “Whoa. Where did my pants go? Why are my legs spread open? This is a very uncommon coincidence.”
Winstead and Common share a great onscreen chemistry and their dynamic is the primary force of the film that keeps the story progressing. Even when he turns out to be full of shit at times, that beautiful, down-to-earth honesty compensates for it all.
The movie is funny as hell and has such amazing comedic sequences, but there are definitely some filler scenes in there. When Nina gets to LA, the movie takes a bit of a drop while we are introduced to supporting characters, such as her new roommate Lake and her group of hippy friends. Things get a bit silly and out of tone, but Nina’s consistent character keeps it afloat.
Wow, this was the perfect time in life to watch this movie because, like Nina, I found myself escaping from NY to LA last month and god, this kind of hit close to home. Our motives and situations are completely different, but I know that feeling of escape.
As I said earlier, I would love to have Vives write a comedy special for Netflix. Better yet, have her write episodes of “Bojack Horseman” because, when this film hits its third act, it captures all of the incredible aspects of the show. It starts off pretty funny, but then it stabs you in the chest with harsh realities that not many films or series tend to delve into, and it’s handled boldly with care and truth. Especially because of this particular week we’ve had in politics, this film is relevant and makes the perfect statement about the entertainment industry and exploring damaged characters in the same way that “Bojack Horseman” does. If you are able to capture that level of honesty, YOU ARE POWERFUL. This movie is powerful.
A solid and meaningful debut by writer/director Eva Vives, and a remarkably moving performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “All About Nina” is a relevantly bold commentary on the entertainment industry and the psychological damage that can result from abuse.
Rating: 4.5/5 | 93%
Super Scene: Nina’s celebrity impersonations