All About Nina is about Nina Geld (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a thirty-three-year-old comedian. She had two reasons to fly across America from New York to LA. One is to escape her abusive married cop of an evil ex, Joe (Chance Crawford). There’s another purpose to her interstate flight. LA is home to Comedy Prime, an SNL-type show looking for its first female cast member. And while she’s waiting for audition day she’s doing the club circuit. There she meets an audience member, Rafe (Common), a contractor. She’s an East Coast cynic and he’s a Californian open book, both are regional archetypes. And yes, their baggage either brings them together or keep them apart. But this is the last I’ll complain about genre tropes that some audiences might dislike. And I have valid reasons why.
The biggest is that in All About Nina, Winstead, as we can expect, really amazing. She brings physicality to express the idea of hating men. Also, need them, which is a paradox that most women and some men can relate to. She even commits and adds authenticity in scenes that seem familiar. Like Nina calling her ‘roommate’ Lake (Kate del Castillo) about Rafe’s skills in the bedroom. Winstead is equally sensitive and profane, and Del Castillo is equally great. Lake is another Californian, one that del Castillo brings an unbridled joyful energy in portraying. Their performances also stay true to the dichotomies they represent, like Nina’s chaos and Lake’s ritualistic hippiedom. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that people who experience trauma can be around happier people. And one doesn’t have to infect the other.
Writer-director Eva Vives also provides the lived in spaces where these characters play out their drama. She uses contradictions to her advantage, portraying a chaotic protagonist with an unflinching yet empathetic gaze. It’s also a blessing that cinematographer Thomas Scott Stanton lights Winstead like she’s a star from the Golden Age. The film conveys Winstead’s commanding presence even in times when Nina is at her worst. She’s also great at showing the effects of these characters’ confrontations. The more we spend time with them, the more we know that Nina isn’t just a misandrist. That Rafe isn’t the saintly boyfriend we think he is. Their misunderstandings drive them to do hurtful things that might actually help them out in the end. It shows, in general, the different ways pain manifests and sublimates.