Thursday, April 26, 2018

Talking Tribeca: All About Nina

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

All About Nina
Directed by Eva Vives
U.S. Narrative Competition

Stand-up comedy is an art form, and it’s not for everyone. This reviewer has been told by many that he’s funny because of the things he does and the way in which he entertains himself, but standing in front of a crowd to tell jokes isn’t his strong suit. There’s an element of self-deprecation necessary to be up on a stage regaling a crowd with stories that, in part, are inspired by your own life, and, if it goes over well, it can be very, very funny. As a result, stand-up comics often make great movie subjects.

Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) knows how to work a room, and, though she’s still waiting to make it big, she has her act down. Her personal life, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired, and leaving for Los Angeles serves as an important step in getting away from a destructive relationship with a married man (Chace Crawford). The new scene introduces her to the kindhearted Rafe (Common), who may well be too nice for Nina, who isn’t afraid to be raunchy in her act and often seems ready to explode when she isn’t prepared for what’s coming next.

Winstead, who was the best part of the third season of “Fargo” and anchored the short-lived comedy series “BrainDead,” is a superb actress completely deserving of more lead roles like this. She is remarkably comfortable on screen, telling jokes and trying not to be vulnerable as she does her best to keep it together. She is simply fantastic as Nina, unflinching in her portrayal of someone who thinks she might know what she wants but then instinctively rejects it as soon as it starts to seem like it’s coming to fruition. Opposite her, Common is immensely endearing trying to keep up, and the two make a great onscreen duo.

This film isn’t just a comedy. While Nina does regale the audience with a number of routines, seeing how she acts when she’s not on stage is equally fascinating. This film doesn’t sugarcoat her life, and it’s most effective when she practices routines with no audience that make light of things she shouldn’t be joking about, processing them verbally as an apparent way of coping with them. This film, with the fabulous Winstead in the center, is a very impressive feature debut for director Eva Vives, one that succeeds equally as a comedy and a drama.


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