How one processes trauma, and the leaps and bounds people perform to avoid coming to terms with it, is the heart of Spanish writer/director Eva Vives’ debut feature. Centering on stand-up comedian Nina Geld (Winstead) fleeing the East Coast for potential fame in L.A., Nina doesn’t have anything remotely resembling relationships. She fucks. She drinks. She vomits after every performance. And then she drinks some more. Her engagement with the world could be considered standoffish, but that would be a colossal understatement. She is a person whose onstage, raunchy persona of telling tales of the odors of her vagina belie an existence of escape, a presence who is crawling out of her skin at any given time.
“I don’t need to tell my truth, I own my truth. It’s in here, giving me heartburn,” Nina chastises a group of New Age hippies in her newfound home on the West Coast, housed from a tip from a friend. She’s in L.A. to audition for Comedy Prime, a thinly veiled manqué of Saturday Night Live. Enter Rafe (Common), a smooth and accessible man that Nina just can’t seem to figure out. He wants a relationship and she can’t figure out why anyone would want to do that. This plays on for a bit, and Vives is brutal and wicked, not just with Nina’s stand-up routines, but with the dance of courtship. It is a messy dissection of modern romance, although Rafe being the “ultimate catch” seems a bit too pat. But I think that is entirely the point. When Nina kills it at her audition, and subsequently gets a meeting with the show’s producer Larry Michaels (Bridges) for a perfunctory congratulations, you think Nina has done it. You would be wrong.
The third act of this film is a convergence of everything that Nina sought to run away from coming to full fluorescence in front of her eyes. Everything hinges on Vives’ direction, but it is Winstead who carries the entire movie. She is voracious in her humanity, but also extremely skillful in redressing her flaws into her routine, and ultimately tackling that particular thing that has driven her entire life. Don’t think this is merely some edgy, caustic rom-com: This is a seriously funny examination of a life wracked with pain, and the healing steps it takes to move on with your life. And perhaps, it goes without saying, in this time we are living? It is a good reminder.
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