PLOT: Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a stand-up comic, tries to leave her baggage behind by relocating to Los Angeles, but finds that some problems can’t be avoided forever.
REVIEW: Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been having a great career. She’s somehow managed to juggle big feature projects (10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, the upcoming GEMINI MAN and the recently announced BIRDS OF PREY) with work on TV (“Fargo”) and a series of interesting indie roles. This follows along the lines of the latter category, with ALL ABOUT NINA very much in the mold of her earlier ALEX OF VENICE and SMASHED.
Nina, an acerbic stand-up comic, proves to be a tailor-made part for the actress. She’s believably funny on stage; with her shown honing a killer routine early on (a problem with stand-ups on film is they’re not always believably funny). More important, she effortlessly conveys the inner turmoil that unveils itself as the film goes on. Drop dead gorgeous, she’s nevertheless stuck in a pattern of relationships mostly consisting of either anonymous sex, or a self-destructive relationship with a married, abusive cop lover (Chace Crawford).
While initially you don’t get why she’s so self-destructive, Winstead and her writer-director Eva Vives, skillfully peel away the layers, especially once she leaves for L.A and starts seeing an all-around nice guy, played by an immensely likable and sympathetic Common. Their give-and-take seems genuine and while he’s the nice guy he’s not idealized either, showing he has a womanizing side, although he’s downright saintly compared to Crawford.
For me, ALL ABOUT NINA fares best when focusing on the relationship aspect and her on-stage career, with excellent support by Jay Mohr as a fellow comic obsessed with bedding her (although he’s also presented as a human being and not all-around despicable). For me, the movie only really loses focus during extended episodes with her new landlord, a touchy-feely type played by Kate del Castillo, who’s perfectly decent – it’s just that for me the quirky vibe of these scenes didn’t work as well as the others. It could have probably been shaved down a bit to ninety minutes or so, but even still, ALL ABOUT NINA’s momentum rarely lags.
It all builds up to a surprisingly frank denouement not at all out of place considering the headlines we read daily and Winstead’s climactic act ranks as some of her best ever acting. That’s saying something, as when has she not been great? While ALL ABOUT NINA may not make huge waves due to it being a somewhat low-key character study, fans of Winstead or just solid drama should keep an eye out as it’s well worth checking out. Winstead continues to impress and I hope she keeps doing the indies as her star rises and rises.