Review: All About Nina, set in the world of stand-up comedy, rings true

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a revelation as a brilliant comic whose tough-talking persona masks deep issues

ALL ABOUT NINA (Eva Vives). 97 minutes. Opens Friday (October 12). See listing. Rating: NNNN

There have been many films about brilliant, self-destructive stand-up comics, but Eva Vives’s All About Nina – although made before #­MeToo exploded in the entertainment industry – feels eerily timely. 

Nina Geld (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a rising New York City comic whose tough-talking onstage persona obviously masks some deep issues. She vomits after every set and has a habit of bedding the wrong guys, including an abusive married cop (Chace Crawford) who won’t leave her alone.

When she flees to L.A., nominally to audition for a TV show but really to leave all her baggage behind, she meets a new man (Common) and they hit it off, and everything’s going well until Nina’s demons start reappearing and she begins sabotaging herself.

Vives’s debut feature contains few narrative surprises, and she’s got a weakness for L.A. mansion porn. (Nina’s Laurel Canyon-looking digs are particularly ostentatious and unlikely, although Kate del Castillo is lots of fun as a New Age lesbian writer who lets her stay there.)

But Vives has a strong eye and ear for the quirky rhythms of urban life. The film takes on layers as it progresses, so that by the time Nina’s 11th-hour monologue happens – which recalls everything from Tig Notaro’s infamous Largo set to the recent Hannah Gadsby show Nanette – it makes you reconsider everything that came before. 

Winstead is a revelation, capturing Nina’s mixture of bravado and frankness, and she’s got great chemistry with Common, especially during a long, playful scene in which they’re trying not to have sex on a first date. 

But it’s when Nina’s defences break down that Winstead gets to show her real range, finding a depth, pain and vulnerability in her character that are difficult but cathartic to watch. 

And yes, she’s totally believable as a stand-up comic. | @glennsumi

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