“All About Nina,” featured in the Spotlight Screening at the Boston Women’s Film Festival at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge during the last week of September, is the dramedy that reiterates the current #MeToo climate.
The festival’s main goal is to highlight female-centric stories directed by women.
This year, it offered 16 films made in 2017 and 2018 from China, New Zealand, Indonesia and the U.S. with two venues at the Boston Museum of Modern Arts and The Brattle Theatre. They also added two previously released films to the festival’s schedule.
“All About Nina” tells the story of stand-up comedian Nina Geld, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Nina writes her set around her own bad decisions and performs it with coarse jokes.
The director, Eva Vives, who also wrote the screenplay, based Nina’s struggles on her own life experience. Vives was not a stand-up comedian, but she was a regular audience member in New York stand-up shows when she was younger. She has previously said that attending these shows helped her come to grips to what happened to her.
In the movie, Nina, a New York comedian, decides to move to Los Angeles to push her career forward and leave an abusive relationship with a married cop (Chace Crawford) behind.
In Los Angeles, she stays with her agent’s friend, Lake (Kate del Castillo), a quirky, faux-spiritual writer. Although this relationship feels out of place at first, it pays off at the end. Through Lake and her girlfriend, Paula (Clea DuVall), Nina witnesses a functional relationship dynamic to deal with arguments.
Nina’s perception of men and relationships is questioned when she meets Rafe, played by Common. He is an emotionally available and sensitive guy, which makes her dubious of his intentions at first. They try to have an honest relationship until Nina’s past comes looking for her.
Nina finally comes clean with Rafe during a stand-up performance reminiscent of Hannah Gadsby’s comedy special “Nanette.” Although Gadsby’s special was an outstanding and touching routine, Nina’s set was referred to as a “break-down”. The tone of the movie shifts with Nina’s revelation. She now has to deal with the source of her intimacy issues and the impact it has on her current relationships.
The movie uses many rom-com tropes that at times seem hollow, like the protective best friend or the romantic interest who saves the protagonist. However, what sets this movie apart is the struggle of its protagonist to put herself back together.
The movie briefly touches on some key issues concerning what women and men want out of romantic relationships, and the expectations they have of their preconceived gender roles. Even though the story doesn’t explore them further, the fact that they come up is a good indicator of the shift that romantic storytelling is taking in recent movies.
“All About Nina” is a funny and relevant film. It lets the audience see a woman trying to deal with a traumatic past and how she doesn’t let it define her present.
After all, it is a story about hope. It is not about completely overcoming what holds you back or getting everything you ever wanted. It is about living your truth despite some setbacks, and not giving up on yourself.
One key element of the movie’s success is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance. She is powerful and believable as Nina. She makes the audience root for this flawed character.
Another crucial element for this movie to work was Eva Vives’s work behind the camera. Vives makes Nina a representation of today’s women who won’t smile at a stranger’s request and who lead their lives with the resources they have at hand, just like any other man.
This review was previously published in Boston University News Service on October 9, 2018.