All About Nina

Studio: The Orchard
Directed by Eva Vives

Sep 27, 2018 Web Exclusive
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Films about the lives of talented fictional artists can easily set themselves up for failure. If you’re making a film about Beethoven or Rembrandt or Sylvia Plath, your audience will come prepped with an admiration - or at least acknowledgement - of your subject’s work. When your artistically talented protagonist is a work of fiction, their groundbreaking, revelatory art is only going to be as groundbreaking or revelatory as you can make it.

This self-defeating paradox is one of the major flaws inherent in All About Nina, the new film by writer/director Eva Vives, which casts Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the titular stand-up comic. Nina is considered the hot new comic to watch on the stand-up circuit because -get this - she talks about bodily functions and her prolific sexual exploits despite being a conventionally attractive woman. No sensible person would argue against breaking down barriers in the long-running boy’s club that is stand-up comedy, but All About Nina is apparently set in a world where no one has ever heard of Sarah Silverman or Amy Schumer or Iliza Schlesinger or Chelsea Peretti or any other popular, attractive woman who has found success via blue material. Nina’s cliched, self-consciously provocative material is just the most obvious symptom of a wider problem of inauthenticity plaguing the film as a whole.

The plot of the film concerns Nina ditching NYC and her shitty ex-boyfriend - we know he’s a scumbag both because he hits her and because he hangs his sunglasses from the back of his shirt collar - to move to LA and audition for Comedy Prime, a popular sketch comedy show run by a elite tastemaker named - ::sighs:: - Larry Michaels. While touring the LA comedy scene and prepping for her audition, Nina’s self-destructive habits of casual sex and binge drinking threaten to be derailed by a budding relationship with Rafe, a manic pixie dream boy played in a single emotional register by Common. Everything about the first hour of this film is excruciating from the lazy, obvious stereotypes about LA - Nina’s new roommate is a Mexican-American lesbian who senses her aura and immediately invites her to a hippie gathering where everyone shares the worst thing that happened to them, because, you know, themes - to her relationship with Common’s character, who feels like he was designed in a lab for the sole purpose of identifying and healing her various damages. Common has screen presence to spare, but Rafe is such an artificial prop of a character that it would take an extremely talented and nuanced actor to elevate him to the status of “plausible human being,” and he unfortunately just does not have the chops.

Someone who does have the chops is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has spent the better part of the last two decades proving herself to be an engaging, empathetic performer. Nina’s TMI, foul-mouthed stand-up material is too boiler plate for even the most talented comedian to salvage - although a mid-movie montage proves Winstead has a natural flair for impressions - but the part does ultimately demand a lot of its performer. The final act features a heartbreaking on-stage confessional from Nina, which is played with beautiful restraint by Winstead. It provides crucial context for the character we’ve gotten to know over the previous ninety minutes, but it’s hard to reconcile all that exhausting, implausible build-up with the fascinating fallout of Nina’s actions in the final ten minutes. It’s easy to imagine a far more interesting and challenging film if Vives had placed that scene at the end of the first act instead of in the third. What could have been a portrait of female fame and notoriety in 2018 ends up as just a tiresome, played-for-shocks romance.

Author rating: 3/10

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