Film & Television

‘All About Nina’ — Stand-Up Comedy
in the Days of #METOO

“It’s All About Nina, right? She’s in every scene of the movie. She carries the weight on her shoulders. Nina is a really difficult character to get right because she’s abrasive and gets in people’s faces, which I think can easily be overdone, but at the same time, there’s a lot of stuff that she’s hiding through a lot of the movie. So, I really needed someone who could play a lot of those things, which is a very difficult thing to do.”

Although Vives hadn’t worked with Mary Elizabeth Winstead before, she was familiar with her, and the two built a strong rapport at their first meeting. Winstead recognized right away that Vives’s own story was built into Nina’s. “I’ve never played anybody with this much rage inside of her,” she observed, “And it’s going to be a question of how much we show when.”

Prior to All About Nina, I knew Winstead mainly from her role as Civil War nurse Mary Phinney in PBS’s Mercy Street. There couldn’t be too more polar characters. However, Winstead, who has been acting since she was 13 and has an impressive list of credits, is an absolute powerhouse as Nina. It’s a naked, raw, and fearless performance. One of the truly remarkable things about Nina’s being at the center of the film is how thoroughly unlikeable she is. And Winstead embraces all of the character’s negative traits and, at times, hateful behavior. She doesn’t make us like Nina, but she somehow makes us love her.

All About Nina is definitely Winstead’s movie, but she has a tremendous supporting cast to play to and with. Hip-hop artist and poet turned actor Common plays Rafe, her unlikely lover. He is almost too suave, but has a mischievous streak that makes him enormously attractive. Chace Crawford has graduated from his Gossip Girl roots and plays Nina’s menacing and abusive ex. Kate del Castillo, as the aforementioned Lake, stays just shy of a caricature and has a memorable scene in which she and her lesbian lover (Lea DuVall) negotiate where the kitchen sponge belongs. Beau Bridges, in his brief screentime as Lorne . . . oh, I mean Larry . . .  Michaels, personifies the network television patriarchy. And the always-marvelous Camryn Manheim is incredibly moving without saying a word when she sees her daughter Nina’s ultimate breakdown broadcast on social media.

Vives has made an important and powerful film, against some odds. She’s a woman and Hispanic. Her earlier work has earned accolades, but not much in terms of box office. She refused to take advice when people urged her to make Nina “nicer.” It isn’t surprising that funding for All About Nina was hard to come by.

When asked about #MeToo and #TimesUp, Vives enthusiastically supports equality in Hollywood, but thinks there’s more to be done.

“It’s about time,” she declares. “Most of the women I know in this industry —  myself included —  have been at it for years. The fact that women do good work that is consistently overlooked is not new, so I’m glad, for lack of a better word, that this is slowly and finally happening. I think men need to be a part of it as well. Without their participation, it will continue to be an upstream battle, and will only be seen as a woman’s issue, when it’s not.”

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