All About Nina

Early on in the movie my wife said, “Her comedy isn’t funny.”

I replied, “I think it is. She’s capturing the vibe of a comedy club, and a risque female comedian.”

One of my pet peeves with movies about people doing stand-up is, they’re often not authentic. The amount of arguments I got into over the horrible Punchline (Tom Hanks, Sally Field), which was neither funny nor authentic.

The handful of more recent movies that deal with stand-up comics that I liked, include Obvious Child (Jenny Slate), Punching Henry/Punching the Clown (Henry Phillips), Funny People (Adam Sandler),  and Sleepwalk with Me/Don’t Think Twice (Mike Birbiglia). It’s not an impossible task to tackle the world of stand-up on screen.

This is writer/director Eva Vives’ first movie, and some elements are based on her own life. It’s a solid first effort. She covers the dark side that seems to inhabit many stand-up comedians, and she cast the perfect actress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to play Nina Gold. It’s just a shame that the film feels like a first draft in need of a rewrite.

We get a lot of cliches, and nothing all that new about insecurities and narcissism. We also get a bunch of lazy stereotypes.

Nina is doing the comedy clubs (and men) in New York City, and dating an abusive cop (Chace Crawford). She pesters her agent (Angelique Cabral, who is also great) to get her some auditions in Los Angeles [I thought of that sad scene in Swingers when Jon Favreau tells a girl how he thought he would find success in comedy by moving to L.A.].

The first signs this film would have problems was with the lesbian, free spirit (Kate del Castillo) that takes Nina in when she gets to L.A. She talks about all this hippie-dippy stuff regarding nature, the trees around her house, and immediately has Nina go with her to some goofy retreat where a mystic goofball asks them things like “Tell me one thing you witnessed that you weren’t meant to see.”

Those scenes with the roommate character just weren’t funny.

Nina starts dating Rafe (Common), and they have decent chemistry together; although I rolled my eyes at his character being the…”I don’t just want to sleep with you, but I’m interested in the real you” character. Especially when a scene occurs where a woman shows up at the restaurant where they’re on a date, and he acts nervous, like a guy that’s caught having an affair. If it were truly over with that woman, why would he care that she walked in on him having dinner with Nina? It makes us dislike his character a bit, and think he’s just smart enough to say the right lines to get Nina in bed; which I don’t think was the filmmaker’s point. They wanted us to like him, and be worried by the fact that Nina is sabotaging what could be a great relationship, simply because she’s never had one before and doesn’t recognize his great qualities.

As I was watching the movie, I was never bored. The comedy could’ve been stronger, but the characters were all interesting enough. Jay Mohr, a great comedian and actor, has a few funny scenes as a guy always trying to get Nina into bed (or, onto the couch backstage at the Comedy Store). Beau Bridges shows up in a few scenes as a big shot executive looking for a female comedian to cast in a TV show. He has a scene with Nina near the end of the film that was brilliantly written, and avoided all the cliches you’d expect in a scene that’s going down the way it is.

There are a few big laughs in the movie. Two different scenes that have laugh out loud moments iinvolve comedians doing impressions. The first scene shows Nina working on them after a shower when her hair is all wet. The second one has her, and other comedians, doing their various characters on stage (after they got word that the comedy show is looking for a woman that does impressions). We get to see the ladies impersonate Cher, Shakira, Celine Dion, Bjork (on two occasions, which makes it even funnier), Kristen Stewart (which is someone I didn’t think you could impersonate, and it was hysterical), and someone you wouldn’t have even thought to have anybody impersonate — filmmaker Werner Herzog. It was awesome hearing that.

Camryn Manheim shows up playing Nina’s mom. It’s a small role, but she’s wonderful. It was also fun to see character actress Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers, iCarly), and she’s in a scene that breaks your heart. In that scene, Sterling’s facial expression is what killed me. What Nina is saying on stage…veers off in a direction that I don’t feel was necessarily earned. And it’s supposed to make us feel sorry for a character who has spent an entire movie being so grating, that you still don’t care for her. You just think….maybe she should’ve been spending more time with that shrink she was seeing in the beginning.

Nina Gold reminded me a lot of Howard Stern. He’s not really all that funny, just shocking; but, if you listen long enough, he sometimes spits out something funny. Oh, and that reminds me…it’s another movie with a barf scene. That now changes my stat to 82.5% of the movies I’ve seen the last five years have at least one throw-up scene.

I’m giving it 2 ½ stars out of 5. It’s playing at the Digital Gym starting Friday.