The title says it all. Nostalgia is a movie worth remembering, a beautifully constructed multi-character drama with interconnected storylines and exceptional performances. It is one of those small, independently made films that impacts you stays with you long after you leave the theater. Director Mark Pellington and writer Alex Ross Perry have created a film about grief, loss, memories and stuff, the things we hang on to for numerous reasons that don’t always have a simple explanation.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), Nostalgia opens with an insurance assessor (John Ortiz) analyzing the value of a grandfather’s (Bruce Dern) lifetime of artifacts, spurred by his granddaughter’s questions about their monetary value. Of course that value is all the eyes of the beholder. This all-too-brief beginning segues to the ashes and embers of a burned-down home owned by a still-grieving widow (Ellen Burstyn) who, in a panic to save something, has grabbed her husband’s prized baseball autographed by Ted Williams. The connective tissue here is that same insurance man, and the scene they play among the ruins of her house is devastating thanks to a superb and moving performance by Burstyn. It leads her to a Las Vegas memorabilia store run by a straightforward dealer (Jon Hamm) who negotiates a price for the baseball as she is clearly torn about giving up such a strong and tangible part of her husband.
As Burstyn exits the film, this leads Hamm to visit his sister (Catherine Keener), where he is forced to join her in determining what to keep from their parents’ home before selling it. This becomes the film’s longest segment as it takes an unexpected turn when tragedy strikes close to home for Keener.
Pellington expertly juggles all of this by keeping us engaged and invested in the travails of these characters, forging a tone poem that creates a very personal experience for the audience. It asks many questions but, much to its credit, doesn’t provide easy and pat answers. Nostalgia is emotional, certainly depressing at times but never a downer. It doesn’t wallow in the past but celebrates what we cherish from it in order to move forward.
Hamm is excellent as a man who traffics in other people’s lives and memories but has a harder time dealing with his own. Burstyn continues a remarkable career with another striking and heartbreaking performance. Keener, as always, is very fine along with Ortiz and a terrific Dern. And kudos to Mikey Madison, who, as a friend of Keener’s daughter, has a very affecting scene as well.
Nostalgia is a must for smart-thinking adult audiences. Producers are Pellington and Tom Gorai. Bleecker Street puts the movie into limited release on Friday.
Do you plan to see Nostalgia? Let us know what you think.