MOVIE OF THE WEEK October 5, 2018: ALL ABOUT NINA

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motw logo 1-35Propelled by a raw, powerful performance from star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Eva Vives’ debut feature “All About Nina” couldn’t be more timely or relevant. The story of a caustic stand-up comic whose drunken one-night stands and other self-destructive choices mask heartbreaking pain, it will resonate deeply with anyone who’s ever been afraid to let someone else get close.

Nina Geld (Winstead) is known for her raunchy, sex-centric bits on the New York comedy-club circuit; her material tends to earn her male attention, which she doesn’t mind at all — she’s used to bringing new guys home for the night and then never seeing them again. The complicating factor is Joe (Chace Crawford), a married, abusive cop she can’t quite seem to quit entirely. As a desperate measure, Nina decamps for L.A., where she lives with ultra free spirit Lake (Kate del Castillo) and hones her stand-up material while waiting for the chance to audition for a popular Saturday Night Live-esque sketch show.

And then she meets Rafe (Common), a man who wants to be more than just another notch in Nina’s bedpost. She likes him, too — a lot — but she’s scared to make herself vulnerable to anyone. Exactly why Nina is so afraid of a real relationship eventually comes to light (spoiler alert/trigger warning: it involves sexual abuse), and her choice to tell the whole truth could change everything. But that’s a risk Nina decides she’s finally willing to take.

Winstead is the film’s driving force; her Nina is simultaneously brittle and soft, blustering and timid, sarcastic and sincere. It’s a remarkable performance. She’s aided by Vives’ wrenching script, which is as real and intense as Winstead’s acting. “All About Nina” isn’t always easy to watch, but women’s lives aren’t always easy to live. Vives and Winstead recognize that truth, delivering a character — and a film — that lingers. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Sandie Angulo Chen: A raw and heartbreaking – and, sadly, never more relevant – exploration of an abuse survivor’s anger, loss, and sadness. As Nina, a stand-up comic on the verge of stardom, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is fabulous. Winstead has grown out of the doe-eyed ingenue roles that peppered her early filmography, and there’s a power in Nina’s worn, wasted, tired, and beautiful face as she works on her professional career in comedy, while struggling with terrifying inner demons. Common (who seems to be in every other movie this autumn) practically glows as Rafe, the kind of man that Nina just might be able to get to know instead of simply using for a one-night stand. Even in the movie’s darkest moments, director Eva Vives makes sure audiences stay locked on Winstead’s stellar, gut-wrenching performance. So when Nina’s roommate Lake (the wonderful Kate Del Castillo) gives Nina a comforting, full-bodied hug, it’s cathartic for viewers, particularly women who know that comfort, recognition, and support is the best we can offer.

Nell Minow: Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a performance that is both fearless and nuanced as a woman who uses her stand-up humor the way she uses sex and alcohol — as a shield to keep from being vulnerable to others and to protect herself from her own feelings as well. It’s a very rare actor who can be believable on screen as a stand-up comic, especially one who does impressions, but Winstead is completely authentic in her character’s performances and giving them dramatic weight and a character arc as well. Writer/director Eva Vives shows us not just the backstage world of the stand-up performer, but of the female stand-ups, and the scene where her competition expresses mingled bitterness and genuine support is exceptionally well done.

Anne Brodie: It’s hard to sympathise with a woman intent on sabotaging herself in these times of burgeoning female awakening and action, the new feminism. Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as the titular character in Eva Vives All About Nina. She’s wounded and suffering and bombs everything around her in apparent efforts to reboot herself. She’s an aspiring comedian in New York who moves to Los Angeles for better opportunities. But, in reality, she’s running from New York, a negligible career that literally makes her sick and an abusive married boyfriend. Miracle of miracles, she lands an audition for a late night comedy show and meets a man (Common) she can’t shake or use, all the while suffering from intensifying self-destructive tendencies and crippling rage. There is great unease being around this character, but a dramatic key moment she reveals why and suddenly the film makes sense. She’s in terrible pain that surfaced with the birth of the #MeToo movement; our hearts go out to her. Nina is a tough woman to like but easy to love.

Jennifer Merin All About Nina is the remarkable first feature from filmmaker Eva Vives, who also wrote the script. It’s the character-driven story of a stand up comic who hides her vulnerability behind a mask of tough humor, alcohol and casual sex. Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars and is absolutely brilliant.

Esther Iverem: All About Nina is a funny, tour de force of excess drinking, vomiting and too-casual sex by a female comedian. Kudos to the voyeuristic script by director Eva Vives and the masterful acting job by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

MaryAnn Johanson Eva Vives’s feature directorial debut, starring an utterly incendiary Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is a challenge to the subgenre of “closed-off fuckup is own worst enemy, sabotages absolutely everything,” of which we have seen many examples about men, that goes way beyond a simple gender flip. As the film slowly builds to a raw raging against the denial of women’s experiences and the silencing of women’s voices, it becomes something transgressive and downright taboo-busting in a way that similar movies about male characters almost never are. Here is a woman — both Vives, working from her own semiautobiographical script, and Winstead’s protagonist — speaking an uncomfortable truth about her reality to the world, simply because she is totally exhausted with carrying the burden of it around. Read full review.

Nikki Baughan: An electric turn from Mary Elizabeth Winstead pulses through this striking feature debut from short filmmaker Eva Vives, which effectively shines a light on issues of honesty, identity and equality through the story of a stand-up comedian transplanted from cacophonous New York to the more introspective LA. While the character’s resulting journey of self-discovery may follow familiar lines, it is bracing nevertheless. Read full review.

Liz Whittemore: Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a striking performance in this very dark film. As the plot rolls along, it takes an unexpected politically relevant turn that will make its release date seem written in the stars. The emotionally high and low journey you’ll go on with our leading lady will astound and leave you breathless. All About Nina takes center stage with comedy fueled by hurt, ambition, and truth. Read full review.

Cate Marquis Al About Nina stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a woman stand-up comic trying to break through in a male-dominated field. Framed as a romantic comedy, writer-director Eva Vives uses the film to tackle head-on the issue of abuse. On stage, Nina is bold, with bitingly funny, frankly sexual routines delivered with bravura. Off stage, she is more of a mess, throwing up after every performance and dealing with people in a guarded manner. Read full review.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: All About Nina

Directors: Eva Vives

Release Date: September 28, 2018

Running Time: 97 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Eva Vives

Principal Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Common

Distribution Company: The Orchard

Trailer

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Betsy Bozdech

Betsy Bozdech is the Executive Editor of Common Sense, for which she also reviews films. Her film reviews and commentaries also appear on Reel.com and Hollywood.com.