2018, R, 114 min. Directed by Mark Pellington. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, James Le Gros, Bruce Dern, John Ortiz, Nick Offerman.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., March 2, 2018
“What is the value of anything?” Helen (Burstyn) asks at one point during this languid investigation of the objects that come to define us. This collaboration between director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) and writer Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel, Listen Up Philip) unfortunately feels like cocktail-napkin sketch writ large (well, writ medium, anyway). It is a series of vignettes dealing with, well, how people deal with loss, and the literal baggage that needs to be dealt with after someone passes away. The structure of the film harkens back to the Nineties heyday of episodic narratives, such as the Wayne Wang/Paul Auster 1995 collaboration Smoke, but also 1993’s Twenty Bucks (Remember that one? No? Probably for the best). The stellar cast is uniformly great, but perhaps that speaks more toward the subject matter of grief and moving on, giving everyone a showcase to sink their teeth into acting.
We begin with Daniel (the incredibly underrated Ortiz), an insurance agent assessing the contents of the life of Ronnie (Dern), an old widower surrounded by an accumulation of books and ephemera, who, it is implied, is not long for this world. It is the strongest (and shortest) scene in the film. The narrative segues into the life of Helen, whose house has burned down, and all she has left is a baseball signed by Ted Williams. She ends up selling it to a collectible dealer, Will (Hamm). We then follow him and his relationship with his sister Donna (Keener), who suffers a tragic loss in the midst of cleaning out their parents’ home. Despite the pedigree of the actors, this is the weakest segment of a film that strives to be a heartfelt ode to the things we leave behind, and how those things impact our lives. But with Pellington’s wandering camera and an insufferably maudlin piano score that telegraphs every emotion, Nostalgia feels like an incomplete reverie, an exploration of loss that doesn’t have anything new to add. In other words, it’s a pretty boring entry into the “What is a life lived?” question that goes on for entirely too long. Don’t shorten your own life by wasting it on this film.