Mary Elizabeth Winstead Gives Authentic Performance as Troubled Comic in ‘All About Nina’
They say no one gets into comedy because they had a good childhood, and this is certainly the case for Nina Geld (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a high-strung comedian who is first introduced making her way in NYC in “All About Nina.” Winstead, who had her big break in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” is a million miles away from manic pixie dream girl Ramona Flowers here as she tears the patriarchy during her sets and tackles taboo subjects like periods. “Think about all the amazing things men could have accomplished if you weren’t just trying to fuck us all the time,” is just one of the tamer jokes in her set. At age 33, Nina navigates a chaotic personal life that includes an affair with a married cop, Joe (Chace Crawford), who gets his kicks out of slapping her around. When she makes the decision to come out Los Angeles to audition for a “Saturday Night Live”-type program known as “Comedy Prime,” it seems like the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. Unfortunately, Nina discovers that it’s not so easy to escape her past, forcing her to confront some painful truths.
In Los Angeles, Nina stays with the Lake (Kate del Castillo), the stereotypical new agey-Californian, who works to get her houseguest to let down her guard. She also meets Rafe (Common), a 42-year-old musician who also wears down Nina’s cynicism. Both have had less than stellar luck when it comes to romance. Nina’s flings almost always fizzle out after one night – She claims she has never seen a guy more than once, Joe being an exception, but she keeps the latter from Rafe. As for Rafe, he has his own baggage that includes an ex-wife. Like most handsome and dissatisfied handsome bachelors in L.A., he has meaningless sex with hot younger women while waiting for a woman like Nina to come along and challenge him. While this romance subplot is full of cliches, Winsted and Common have genuine chemistry together. Predictably, her self-destructive behavior almost sabotages the romance before it even starts.
Eventually, Nina finds herself making a painful admission about her past onstage which goes vrial, impacting her career. Larry Michaels (Beau Bridges), the aptly-named producer of “Comedy Prime,” even says to her that he’s not sure if audiences can see her other than the comic who was abused. It’s amazing how much has changed in the time from which “All About Nina” was made to the time it is being released. Hannah Gadsby’s groundbreaking comedy special “Nanette,” in which the comic discusses being raped, among other things, has been a hot topic since it’s release on Netflix this past June. While most have applauded Gadsby for her courage, some critics (mostly men) have questioned whether topics such as sexual abuse have a place in comedy. If this film was made perhaps six month later, it might have had a different ending, which goes to show just how rapid things are changing for women in comedy, although things still have a way to go.
While Winstead steals the show here, giving such an earnest performance, her most female co-stars also deserve their props, especially Camryn Manheim, an Emmy winner who has been under the radar in recent years, who gives an emotional performance as Nina’s mother. The film also showcases some amazing lady comics, including Nicole Byer, who treats the audience to a memorable character known as Java the Slut.
“All About Nina” opens Sept. 28 in select theaters.