NYU alumna (Tisch ’98) Eva Vives’ newest film “All About Nina,” which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on April 22, blends comedy, drama and romance, but if you are watching just for the laughs, be warned: there are much darker things to come, lurking dangerously close to the surface.
Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a humorously crass female comic whose jokes cover topics from her frequent one night stands to men’s sexualization of her onstage. We first meet her at the mic and are truly introduced to her through her rough encounters with men later that night — from a fellow dumpy comic who can’t help but hit on her, to the frat star she brings home from a bar, to her boyfriend, a married cop played by Chace Crawford, who hits her. Though the film starts slow, as we learn all about Nina, we come to be incredibly invested in her life. She is guarded, to be sure, and appears to be an independent, self-assured woman. But her bouts of anxiety — throwing up every time she gets off stage, having panic attacks after sex and being unable to share even basic vulnerability with others — show something deeper dwelling underneath.
The film follows Nina as she moves to Los Angeles to be cast on Comedy Prime, a fictional show that, though ambiguous, seems to bear similarity to Saturday Night Live. Nina moves in with her agent’s friend, Lake, a New Age-y lesbian, whose Californian absurdity contrasts with Nina’s hard exterior, as she focuses in on her goals of comedy stardom.
Winstead isn’t your typical funny woman, but delivers the more humorous elements of the script — particularly, a scene with impressions of Bjork and Werner Herzog ordering smoothies — incredibly well. The dramatic moments, however, are her clear forte. Winstead portrays Nina’s guarded nature so well that it isn’t until much later that the contrast between her humor and acute anxiety are enmeshed into a full, richly complex human being — but when they are, it hits hard.
This is in part due to none other than Common, the rapper, who is incredible as Nina’s love interest, Rafe. Equally as complex, it’s through this relationship that we are able to see the never vulnerable Nina begin to tell the truth about her heavy past. He is a revelation as a leading man — it’s nearly frustrating that we haven’t seen him in more of these roles, though we surely will begin to.
Before the film gets shockingly deep –– though not unwarrantedly so — it builds, and we wonder about Nina and Rafe’s success as a couple. But until things suddenly break down for Nina toward the end of the film, there’s slight uncertainty that the film will land in the way it needs to. Its pacing and tone, at times, can be off, and some audiences may take issue with the degree of darkness that this comedy decides to tackle. Yet with what Vives is going for — a realistic, complex exploration of a human being who uses comedy to deal with her issues — kept in mind, the film is a well-done and thought-provoking one, delving into how one deals with a specific, dark past to find career success and true intimacy with another person.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 30 print edition. Email Natalie Whalen at [email protected]