New Yorker Nina is a stand-up comic with a blunt repertoire. Her material is R-rated in a competitive way; as if she’s trying to out-disgust other comedians at the open mic. The truth, however, is her jokes are stale. They’re not worthless, but Nina’s routine is on autopilot. However, it’s what she has to do to survive in a world dominated by daunting masculinity and crass jokes.
Filmmaker Eva Vives does a good job making these observations in a purposefully indirect way. She disguises these reflections by using a character study of Nina, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 10 Cloverfield Lane). Nina struggles with alcoholism, which is a doorway to other self-destructive tendencies that control her social life and her health. She commands the stage and can hold a crowd’s attention, but she hasn’t figured out how to produce more meaningful material – I believe she knows this, but she excuses it all too easily.
Nina jumps at the chance to gain more notable coverage for her career by temporarily moving to Los Angeles. Not necessarily because it’ll benefit her career, but it’ll give her a chance to escape an abusive and obsessive ex (Chace Crawford) and other male colleagues who expect her to “put out”. She crashes with new age spiritualist Lake (No Good Deed’s Kate del Castillo) and anticipates an upcoming date to impress television producers at a local comedy club.
All About Nina follows the comedienne’s time in L.A as she eventually aspires for new beginnings. This includes a spontaneous romance with Rafe (musician/actor Common), a relationship that starts as fun flirtations at last call and quickly develops when they mutually sense an actual connection. Winstead and Common have great chemistry as they kid around with each other, and they make a convincing couple as they grow more fond of each other. It’s an intelligently written and performed romantic comedy and, like the stand-up examination, it’s nicely disguised within a dramatic deconstruction of its lead character.
All About Nina is a dynamic debut for writer/director Vives, even if the movie is more casual than the audience expects. The film builds more depth as the theme of abuse is continually explored during Nina’s personal journey, erupting at a moment that falls somewhere between the best and the worst moment in Nina’s adulthood. It’s a tasteful and touching turning point that further proves how emotionally versatile Winstead is as a performer.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie