All About Nina


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nina and Common as Rafe in All About Nina
"This was raw, visceral stuff, for which we have writer/director Eva Vives to thank." | Photo: Thomas Scott Stanton

No. I did not like All About Nina much. Though I don't think that makes it a bad film. Just a marmite one.

Because the subject matter is one that ought absolutely to delight: The ups and downs of a brilliant stand-up – and a woman to boot – teetering on the edge of her big breakthrough,

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The film opens – as it ends – with Nina Geld (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) showing what she can do before an audience. But she is beset by major personal issues from her past which manifest, in the day-to-day, as addiction. To alcohol. And sex.

Add a series of self-destructive habits, from anger to a tendency to pick fights, combined with an inability to say no to Mister Wrong, and the stage is set for a predictable car crash in LA – which is where she heads to audition for a part on a prime-time comedy show.

So far so predictable. The narrative follows her journey from East to West: from worthy unknown to potential star. Does she make it? That would be telling. Though in a way the destination is less important than the journey. None of the grown-ups in her life are dreadful: well, with the exception of married cop/one-time lover Joe (Chace Crawford), and the string of one-night stands who she uses up in an orgy of mutual exploitation.

But while her mum and her agent have their quirks, they are neither saints nor monsters. Nor, despite a hippy-dippy obsession with self-care and “working through stuff” is the rising author with whom Nina stays in LA.

OK, perhaps Rafe (the rapper known as Common), with whom she tangles on her first night in town, comes close to sainthood, standing by when Nina needs support, despite her determined attempts to push him away.

So there's the drama: will Nina make it on the stage? And will she do so on her own? Or will reliable Rafe still be waiting for her despite everything?

Along the way there is an examination of what it means to be creative, authentic, and a woman in today’s society, as well as deal with a potentially overwhelming past secret.

This is, in every sense of the word, a “worthy” film, which is likely why I experienced it as marmite. First, because of the nail-biting nature of watching an hour and a half of self-destruction. Oh, of course: it is the flaw in an otherwise brilliant character that sits at the base of many a great film.

This was raw, visceral stuff, for which we have writer/director Eva Vives to thank. It will make you think about a lot of things, not least all the paddling that goes on beneath the surface as women seek to survive in a society that still treats them as other, as second-class.

If you are in the mood for thinking about stuff, then there is plenty of food for thought here – not least the damage done to a soul by failing to acknowledge past wrongs.

In that context, it makes sense that the film dwells on the West coast obsession with finding your way through meditation and through being honest with yourself and others. Yes: there is therapy with cats, which I loved. At the same time, this all felt just a bit too touchy-feely. Perhaps too touchy-feely, too much the therapist's point of view for me and my personal (Brit, middle-aged) sensibilities.

No. This won't ever be my favourite film. But for those who like this sort of thing, it has a strong performance from Mary Winstead, intelligent dialogue and an insightful script.

Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2018
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A woman wrestles with difficult issues in her personal life as she strives to become a successful comedian.

Director: Eva Vives

Writer: Eva Vives

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sonoya Mizuno, Clea DuVall, Chace Crawford, Camryn Manheim, Melonie Diaz, Common, Angelique Cabral, Beau Bridges, Ramona Young, Mindy Sterling, Jay Mohr, Andree Vermeulen, Kate del Castillo, Victor Rasuk

Year: 2018

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2018

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