Opening This Week: Searing Dramedy (All About Nina), Breathtaking Doc (Free Solo)

By Kim Hughes

All About Nina: Sharp Character Study Buoyed by Fantastic Leads, Authentic Vibe

Rating: A

Watching All About Nina is a bit like watching a stand-up comedy routine — alternately funny, cringe-inducing, sad and exhilarating — which is fitting since the new dramedy follows stand-up comedian Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, dynamite) as she navigates a highly precarious moment in her life.

 A scene from All About Nina.

A scene from All About Nina.

Though her career is on the rise, Nina’s romantic life is trouble personified, with married men and one-night stands the prevailing theme. After a particularly turbulent encounter, Nina decides to swap New York for Los Angeles which puts her in line for a game-changing comedy special. It also puts her in the crosshairs of a hunky contractor (Common, also dynamite) who is everything Nina’s past lovers were not. So of course, the self-loathing Nina promptly makes things complicated.

In her first feature film, Spanish director Eva Vives smartly captures the bi-polar nature of Los Angeles (with its mix of hippy types and careerist wannabes) while offering a character study that scans as completely authentic throughout. The film might also be regarded as a cinematic addition to the #MeToo canon. In one breathtaking and climactic scene, Nina gives the audience (on-screen and in the seats) a searing confession of abuse that reframes everything that has come before.

All About Nina won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s hard to imagine anyone walking away from it unimpressed by its leads or the film’s striking (if often uncomfortable) story.

All About Nina. Directed by Eva Vives. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Common and Chase Crawford. Opens in limited release October 12.

 A typically thrilling scene from Free Solo.

A typically thrilling scene from Free Solo.

Free Solo: Meru Directors Score Again with Stunning Chronicle of Athleticism/Lunacy

Rating: A

It’s impossible to overstate the emotional thwack of watching professional climber Alex Honnold scale the 3,000-foot, granite-face El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park without safety ropes of any kind. To paraphrase Tommy Caldwell, Honnold’s friend and sort-of coach, free soloing is like competing in an Olympics where, if you don’t win the gold medal, you die.

The climb is Free Solo’s pivot point but filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (of Meru fame) probe Honnold’s obsession through more earthbound sources, namely candid interviews with his mother, his girlfriend and other intimates in his orbit. They also speak at length with Honnold, who volleys between forthcoming and strangely obfuscating.

That the filmmakers are also climbers and friends of Honnold’s — thus uniquely aware of the super-human requirements of the feat and the very real possibility they’ll be filming Honnold’s death — cranks the tension to molar-grinding levels. Amazingly, knowing how the climb ends doesn’t in any way lessen the thrill/terror of watching it happen.

Free Solo. Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. With Alex Honnold, Sanni McCandless and Tommy Caldwell. Opens October 12 in Toronto and Montreal, opens October 19 in Vancouver, and throughout the fall in other cities.