Tuesday, October 16, 2018

All About Nina

This was not entirely a movie chosen on the basis of start time, although that factored into it - I could have seen Bad Times at the El Royale at 7pm in a couple places passed on the way, but that would have meant waiting, whereas continuing on the Red Line to Kendall got me to this one just in time for it to start. In my defense, it was raining just enough to make the wait or walk less than ideal at the Capitol and Apple. On the other hand, this had the look of something that was only going to last a week at the Kendall with a large chunk of that week unavailable (as in, I'm writing this on a plane to Texas), so see the indie movie with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common while you can.

Not, ultimately, the greatest decision, but more low-grade disappointment than regret. I know that movies about the entertainment world are generally not my thing - probably going to have to be dragged into A Star Is Born - and this want exactly riding a wave of critical acclaim. I like both stars, but they've only rarely found parts where they can really shine rather than be the best part of an ensemble. That sort of thing. This isn't as completely blindered a movie as you sometimes see from the genre, but it is the sort that makes me wonder if the people making it have relatively narrow experiences to draw upon.

All About Nina

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run, digital)

All About Nina is the sort of movie where you think, fifteen minutes in, that there's got to be some sort of really cruel sledgehammer blow coming, because otherwise it's just a movie about a stand-up comic who is not very funny and is kind of an awful person to be around besides. Sure, a lot of filmmakers will blithely make that sort of semi-autobiographical thing without realizing that is insufferable and dull, but even with a quality lead, there's a filter that prevents them from making their way to theaters.

So you spend the first half-hour or so of this movie waiting for the person who is going to draw something pleasant out of Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Nina Geld, whose routine includes gems like how she gets really bad diarrhea with her period and who doesn't really date so much as she has a thing with a married cop that she feels she must flee because he won't break it off - good thing there's an opportunity in L.A.! And, man, do things brighten up when Common appears on-screen and charms the heck out of everyone as Rafe, a contractor who usually doesn't go to comedy clubs but is recently divorced and likes the honesty she's showing on stage. He is basically perfect until the exact moment when the film requires him to be just selfish enough to make things a little bit harder, but not so much that it can't be walked back. It's calculated as can be, just enough to make the story not quite a complete fantasy.

There are times when the film itself resembles the most hackneyed stand-up comedy bits and inside baseball imaginable, with large chunks of the first act basically playing as extended "men are like this and so are women but they've got to pretend to be like that" and "wow, California is different from New York" bits. There's a laugh or two in them but it's so trite that it's hard not to wonder just why Nina is considered such a rising star. Writer/director Eva Vives doesn't seem to put a whole lot more into Nina's story than her comedy, either; she's just dropped into a much nicer living situation than she had back home, complete with eccentric but protective housemate, with no signs of needing a day job. A terrific boyfriend just walks up and introduces himself, and the big audition that drew her out goes pretty darn smoothly, especially since her post-set vomiting quickly became a running joke rather than something treated with real concern. It's maybe not quite easy, but between the cinema audience not laughing nearly as hard at her material as the people on-screen (or at all) and how demanding Nina can be, it begins to feel rather painfully self-indulgent.

Full review at EFC.FL

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