With all the standup comedy specials populating Netflix these days, you’d think someone in Hollywood would study them to figure out how to do a movie about comedians. I don’t mean putting several of them on stage and filming them a la “The Original Kings Of Comedy.” I mean making a movie about a practitioner of that art who is actually funny.
I’ve been over this ground before, most recently after Robert DeNiro proved he doesn’t have the chops to portray a standup in “The Comedian,” which I called one of the worst movies of 2017 (read my review here). Another of our best actors, Tom Hanks, similarly stumbled in “Punchline.” In fact, the only movie I’ve seen in recent years that portrayed the life and work of a standup comedian with any accuracy was “The Big Sick” (read my review here) — which starred an actual comic, Kumail Nanjiani, doing what he does best in several comedy club scenes.
The latest attempt to bring us into this world is “All About Nina,” from rookie writer/director Eva Vives. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the title character, a standup with a messed-up personal life. She prefers hookups to relationships, drinks too much, and has some serious demons. Determined to get away from an abusive married cop she sleeps with, and with the hopes of getting an audition for an SNL-like TV show called “Comedy Prime,” she leaves New York for Los Angeles to try to begin a new life.
In LA, she stays with her agent’s friend, a stereotypical new age Californian at whom Nina can look down her nose with disdain. When she goes to do a set at one of the local comedy clubs, Nina’s a hit even though the material isn’t as funny as the movie makes it seem. Afterwards, she’s approached at the bar by a good-looking guy named Rafe (played by Common). She tells him right away that she’s not going to sleep with him, but we know she will.
Eventually, Nina gets that “Comedy Prime” audition as part of a showcase for female comics attended by Larry-Not-Lorne Michaels (Beau Bridges). Of course, as in all those other movies about standups, she’s creating all sorts of brand-new material for this incredibly important career moment that same day. No real comic would do that. They’d work on it for weeks, if not months, honing it to perfection, not winging it with some funny wigs and accents and imitations she’d never done before.
There are a few positives about “All About Nina.” Despite the weakness of the comedy routines she has to do, Winstead is really quite good at expressing Nina’s inner torture off-stage, and her mix of vulnerability and brassiness in scenes where she verbally spars with her co-stars had me rooting for her character. The relationship scenes between Nina and Rafe are the most interesting and well-written parts of the movie, and their chemistry is palatable. The supporting cast includes pros like Camryn Manheim (nice to see her again), Todd Louiso, and Jay Mohr.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough to get me to recommend it. I give “All About Nina” a 5 out of 10.