There is plenty of value in life, but we often tend to only appreciate the tangible things in our possession. The things we can hold, or look at, or show off to our friends. That is the sole idea that hangs over the head of Mark Pellington's Nostalgia. It is a film with a collection of characters whose lives intersect, similar to other works such as Crash or Disconnect, all someway have a connection to one another, dealing with a loss of some kind, and the things that are left behind. The all-star cast is game for everything that writers Mark Pellington and Alex Ross Perry want them to portray. The only problem is that Nostalgia becomes a singular and often redundant exercise. The performances from Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, and Ellen Burstyn are top notch, just not enough to make Nostalgia a film to reminisce about. 

The first sequence of Nostalgia is with the legendary Bruce Dern as an elderly man named Ronnie. An insurance accessor (John Ortiz) has stopped at his house to look at the various items that surround him, getting an idea of what has value and what does not. To Ronnie, everything has value, as he is teetering on the edge of hoarder and clearly is in a state of senility. The conversation becomes one of heart-felt sentimentality, where Dern sees the things around him as what he has left to live for and all that the insurance man can do is reassure him that his life has had meaning.

I'll get into the rest of the film shortly, but one of the major problems with Nostalgia is that there's not much to offer to the audience. Director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) is a skilled director, as he sets the stage for each scene with gentle lighting and an emotional purpose. The problem is that the narrative continues to repeat itself. Each character arrives into a scene like an actor stepping into their spotlight, and then delivers a monologue about the tragedy they have experienced in their life. By the time we arrive at the final group dealing with loss, it's hard not to become exhausted before the films end.

The second story involves the insurance accessor again, who seems to act as both a therapist and a guardian angel. Only this time, he's comforting an elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn) whom recently lost her house to a fire, leaving her with the rubble and an autographed Ted Williams baseball that was cherished by her late husband. Later, she converses with a memorabilia salesman named Will (Hamm) about the ball, in a scene that is one of the films higher points. The two talk about memories being more valuable than any autographed baseball and how Will would cherish the sentimental value as much as the dollar value. The final story follows Will and his sister Donna (Catherine Keener). She is cleaning up her attic with her daughter (Annalise Basso), looking at pictures from old vacations, old vinyl records, and frustrated by her teens impatience for reminiscing. When her daughter is killed in a tragic car accident, Donna is left with regret and her brother is at a loss, searching to find how to console his grieving sister.

As I describe the major plot points about Nostalgia, it's obvious that this was a film intended as an exercise for Pellington, the actors involved, and that's about it. The final result is too boring to suggest. The initial premise of reminding the audience how precious the things we have is nice, but fades by act two. Nostalgia would have made for a perfect live-action short film and might even transfer better to the stage. Instead, we are left with a film that reminds us how good these actors can be and longing for films that we have seen in the past. Nostalgia is a movie you will certainly forget.


Written by: Leo Brady