Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mary Elizabeth Winstead knocks it out of the park in Eva Vives' bracing ALL ABOUT NINA

Let's face it: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of the great-yet-underrated talents of our time. And regarding this compelling and versatile actress, the usual "rule" -- oh, well, she hasn't starred in a successful blockbuster yet, so that's why she's not on the map -- doesn't quire apply. She did indeed star in 10 Cloverfield Lane, which came reasonably close to blockbuster status. No matter. She'll be remembered for the "little" movies she made in which her performances proved indelible: from Smashed to Faults (probably the most underseen, close-to-perfect film of the millenium) to Alex of Venice and now ALL ABOUT NINA. A certain Mrs Maisel, not to mention Hannah Gadsby, may be the female comedians of the moment, but once you've met Nina Geld, you will have to make room for one more.

In this new film, written and directed by Eva Vives (shown at right), Ms Winstead, in the poster above and photo below, plays an ought-to-be-very-successful-but-isn't comedian who keeps shooting herself in the foot. (Or, as Nina's own fouled-mouth feminist repertoire might put it, "in the cunt.")

Our girl is about as self-destructive as they come: missing appointments, screwing up auditions, and ruining every possible decent relationship with a male that comes her way, while always opting for the very worst of the bunch.

But, oh, boy, she is funny -- as the bits and pieces of her act that we hear throughout the film will prove. Winstead keeps her character's guard up very cleverly, turning her bile on men and women alike, deserved or not. Her take-down early on of a fellow comedian played by Jay Mohr is priceless. When, later in the game, she gives him what he wants, you will note how far she has sunk.

The new man in Nina's life turns out to be played by Common (shown above, left), that actor with the one-word moniker whom I wish would change his name to Uncommon; he's that good. Seen only last week in the not-so-hot A Happening of Monumental Proportions (which his performance made a bit better), here his good work helps a very smart film take flight. How his character (Rafe) and Nina meet, bond and try to work things out proves both believable and sweetly compelling.

In the supporting cast are some other fine actors -- Camryn Manheim (above) as Nina's mom, Chace Crawford (below, left) as her sleazy ex, and Kate del Castillo as the very new-age Southern Californian woman with who Nina's agent (Angelique Cabral) has set up to care for her client while she is visiting the west coast. Everyone comes through just fine, but it is, top-to-bottom, Nina's movie. And Ms Winstead could hardly be better.

She has always been the kind of actress able to offer a huge range without the viewer even realizing the distance that has been travelled. She is not simply "realistic"; she inhabits each moment, each thought and feeling, so fully and completely that there no room to cavil. Oh, sure: We may wonder why she does some of the stuff she does. But we never question the fact that she has done it.

Ms Vives doesn't always or fully "explain" the why. There's no need. Winstead's performance proves good enough to easily carry us and the film along. I do wish that the movie's resolution did not seem quite so pat, however. Not that Vives ties it all up with a bright red bow. But it will take more than merely this to turn Nina into a better functioning adult professional. Still, the film is often wonderful. And Winstead is simply great -- as always. Few actresses ever get a role this good, let alone do it full justice, as here.

From The Orchard and running a swift 97 minutes, All About Nina opens this Friday, September 28, in New York (at the AMC Empire 25 and Regal Union Square 14) and in Los Angeles (at the AMC Sunset 5 and AMC Burbank Town Center 8). Elsewhere. Hope so. But as The Orchard has not seen fit to even list the film on its web site as of today, who knows?

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