Director: Mark Pellington
Cast: Jon Hamm, Ellen Burstyn, Catherine Keener, John Ortiz, Bruce Dern, Nick Offerman, Amber Tamblyn, Annalise Basso
MPAA Rating: (for some language)
Running Time: 1:54
Release Date: 2/16/18 (limited); 2/23/18 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 22, 2018
Everyone in Nostalgia speaks as if they have been engrossed in an online philosophy seminar for about a month before we meet them. In theory, they come from different walks of life, although, in actuality, they're all fairly well-to-do, with little problems or concerns until fate comes calling with a tremendous tragedy and change. In other words, all of these characters start to sound and look the same from a certain perspective, with the major differences being where they're located and what specific tragedy has befallen them.
To a certain degree, that's to be expected from just about any screenwriter, especially one who possesses as distinct a style as Alex Ross Perry. His characters here are written as if they need to unburden themselves of the weight of the world on their minds, and they do so with grand but succinct statements about the past, memories, mementos, and, in a voiceover monologue at the movie's conclusion, love. They're a curious bunch, seemingly ordinary people who appear to have plenty of time for deep contemplation about life, death, and the course of time.
The movie touches upon these ideas without an ounce of subtlety, and that would be fine—worthwhile, even—if not for the fact that it quickly starts to sound as if these characters are simply repeating the same ideas over and over again. We don't stay with any one character long enough to get an idea if they have or had any other thoughts or interests. We meet each of them at the exact, right moment for self-reflection and existential crisis, and that's all we get from the movie.
The most intriguing element of Perry's script is its structure, which acts as a continuous sort of baton-passing between characters. We're introduced to a potentially rich character, and just at the moment when they might have something different to say about or do with their lives, the movie moves forward to the next character. There's something inherently transient about the narrative's procedure. Honestly, more than any speech or dialogue exchange within the movie, the structure here suggests a lot about how fleeting any given moment, any particular memory, any specific item, or any person's life actually is in the big picture of life across generations.
We meet and briefly stay with five central characters. The first is Ronnie (Bruce Dern), a widower in his 80s who has collected shelves and piles of stuff over the course of his life. Knowing that his time is growing closer to being finished, he and his family are trying to determine what to do with these material possessions. For that, his granddaughter (played by Amber Tamblyn) has sent out an insurance agent named Daniel (John Ortiz) to assess the worth of Ronnie's house and to note anything that might be of value. Ronnie goes on to discuss how these things have become meaningless, although he still clings to a book when Daniel suggests it should be appraised.
With Daniel, who waxes philosophical over the nature of his work in a lengthy speech, we meet Helen (Ellen Burstyn), a widow whose house was destroyed in a fire. She saved some jewelry and, more importantly, a signed baseball that had been passed down on her late husband's side of the family. Living with her son (played by Nick Offerman) and realizing that she has no money to restart her life, Helen meets with a baseball memorabilia seller named Will (Jon Hamm) in Las Vegas. This gives Helen her chance to provide a monologue about the appealing illusion of a physical item's sentimental value. It's the memories that really count.
The rest of the movie follows Will and/or his sister Donna (Catherine Keener), as they try to clear out their childhood home after their parents have moved into a condo. This leads to a debate between the brother, who sees material possessions as a source of income, and the sister, who believes in the power of sentimental value of such things, with the addition of Donna's daughter (played by Annalise Basso), who comes from a generation—of smartphones and digital downloads—that sees little value in physical objects. Donna's story throws us headlong into a family tragedy that's more emotionally manipulative than thought-provoking.
The narrative itself is only as deep as its intriguing structure, which director Mark Pellington emphasizes with abstract transitions, encouraging us to give up the notion that any of these isolated tales will provide any sense of closure. The actual stories within the movie are primarily excuses for the characters to go on and on about Perry's pet subjects here. In between the talking, we mostly see the characters wandering around their various locales without much sense of purpose.
It's engaging for a bit, especially once we start to see how dedicated the central narrative is to highlighting the passing relevance these characters and things have in the big picture. Once we see the movie's existential game, though, Nostalgia reveals that it has a lot of sentiments to spout but little to say.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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