In a very small independent film, writer Eva Vives makes her feature length directorial debut with All About Nina. It tells a compelling story of Nina (the fabulous Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a female stand-up comedian who commands the stage but can’t seem to navigate her love life off it.
Nina starts the film involved in an abusive relationship with a married police officer, who mainly uses her for sex. After her realisation as to the cycle that she’s gotten herself into and with a chance to audition for a Saturday Night Live type show, she packs up and leaves for Los Angeles. Her agent secures her a room to stay with a friend, Lake (another of the film’s stand out performances by Kate del Castillo) a sort of New Age guru. Nina, who’s not as taken by this environment, continues to perform stand-up at local Hollywood spots. Her comedy is very sexual and blunt, but effective in getting laughs.
Off-stage she falls into the pattern of drinking too much and having a parade of one night stands. She meets a good looking man named Rafe, played by hip hop star/actor Common, and starts to develop more than a passing connection with him. With some very real moments of dating life in the city, we see as Nina starts to develop her act as well as her relationship with Rafe.
In a great sequence of scenes, Rafe offers to make Nina dinner at his abode where they converse about life and their dealings with past relationships, each one holding back a little on the full truths. At first not wanting to complicate things with sex, Nina can’t help herself and the two end up in bed together. It’s clear that this is not her normal position in relation to her past as Rafe gets up early for work & leaves Nina alone to show herself out at her leisure.
Nina continues to work on her act which her agent informs her involves a requirement of three impressions. In another sequence we get to see a collage of said impressions as she takes them for a spin to see which sticks the best. We’re introduced to her mother in an awkward meetig where something seems just a bit off between them.
Eventually, like most of her life, her relationship with Rafe hits its first pratfall. While on a date at a club, a drunk Nina becomes aggressive towards another woman on the dancefloor. Outside she confronts Rafe with some venom to which he starts to see why a charismatic, beautiful girl like her is still single. Of course, soberness brings clarity to Nina and she knows she was wrong to snap at Rafe and is able to lure him back.
Finally the big show approaches and we see a gathering of other female comedians all vying for that coveted spot on the show. Each woman goes up to showcase their skills with the head of the show Larry Michaels (Beau Bridges), a part obviously inspired by SNL’s Lorne Michaels. After the show Nina receives a call that she’s been successful and in a funny but painfully real conversation with her surrounding comedian comrades, she tells them the bad news. The reactions are priceless as they spew them out and eventually depart.
In the last part of the film, the ex-boyfriend sabotages Nina while out with Rafe and a scuffle ensues, Rafe finally getting the whole story walks out to leave Nina lost as always. She follows this by making some poor decisions to further her downward spiral.
In the climax of the film, while in front of a packed crowd because it is known she will be the new cast mate on the show, she makes a shocking revelation in a complete onstage meltdown. We finally get to see a glimpse of what makes Nina tick and why.
All About Nina is very story driven and you won’t find anything flashy here except for the great performances. I would happily put Winstead on the short-list of Best Actress for 2018, she’s that good, but probably because of the scope of the film, it won’t be seen by enough people to give her a shot, which is a real shame. Common is also very good and seems to be digging out a decent side career for himself in acting. Comedies are often some of the most challenging films to create since humor can range from smart to slap-sticky to surreal. Although it’s centered on stand-up comedy, Vives deserves a lot of credit for the smart writing, which I guess will be shot at by critics since it’s not equal to some of the better stand-up writing many will be familiar with. I’m not sure how much of the movie is autobiographical, but wouldn’t be surprised if many of these elements were taken from her own life experiences.
I knew little to nothing about All About Nina when I saw it so I’m glad I was able to catch it when I did, as it will surely fall through the cracks. This could be one of those films that makes my top 10 list come the end of the year and I’m excited to see what both Vives & Winstead bring to the table next. Hopefully this will inspire others to take a chance on a little film that could.
Film ’89 Verdict – 8/10
All About Nina is on limited theatrical release now.