Hmm. Honestly, I got nothing. I have no clever commentary, or anything. It doesn’t look too shabby, an emotional movie about the little things in our lives and how much they mean to us. Yeah, I can get behind this.
The story looks like it’s about a fire that burnt down a family’s home and they rummage through it to see what they can salvage… with a few side stories going on as well.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Ellen Burstyn (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM , THE EXORCIST , and the upcoming FUDDY MEERS ), Jon Hamm (BABY DRIVER , MINIONS , and upcoming films BEIRUT  and TAG ), Catherine Keener (GET OUT , BEGIN AGAIN , and upcoming films INCREDIBLES 2  and SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO ), and John Ortiz (CLOVERFIELD PARADOX , THE FINEST HOURS , and upcoming films REPLICAS  and BUMBLEBEE ).
In support, we have Annalise Basso (OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL , CAPTAIN FANTASTIC , OCULUS , and upcoming films SLENDER MAN  and LADYWORLD ), Nick Offerman (THE LITTLE HOURS , HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 , and upcoming films BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE  and BUTTERFLY IN THE TYPEWRITER ), Beth Grant (LUCKY , and upcoming films ANDOVER  and THE LONG HOME ), Bruce Dern (THE HATEFUL EIGHT , and upcoming films CHAPPAQUIDDICK  and WHITE BOY RICK ), and Amber Tamblyn (127 HOURS , THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS , and THE RING ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Mark Pellington, known for THE LAST WORD (2017). Pellington’s partner-in-pen is Alex Ross Perry, known for a bunch of stuff I’ve never heard of, but is slated for the upcoming CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018). The composer is Laurent Eyquem, known for stuff I’ve never heard of. The cinematographer is Matt Sakatani Roe, known for short films and documentaries. Finally, the editor is Arndt-Wulf Peemöller, known for stuff I’ve never heard of, but is slated for upcoming films THE THINNING: NEW WORLD ORDER (2018) and BEHOLD MY HEART (2018).
Overall, I’m not expecting anything great, but something… satisfying.
This is my honest opinion of: NOSTALGIA
An anthology film. Daniel (John Ortiz) is an insurance claimer who listens to the stories of an old man named Ronnie (Bruce Dern) and whether or not anything in his home is worth anything as well as his granddaughter Bethany (Amber Tamblyn) and her relationship with him, eventually journeying to visit Helen (Ellen Burstyn), an elderly woman whose house burnt down and the baseball that’s been in her family for a long time, even though she doesn’t know why it matters. Will (Jon Hamm) owns a pawn shop and visits his sister Donna (Catherine Keener) and teenage niece (Annalise Basso) to help clear out their old parents’ home of their things and see if anything is of value to them.
Wow. This is one of the most powerful, yet flawed films I’ve seen in a long time.
It’s probably important to note that my summary isn’t an exaggeration. This really is a bunch of stories that transition from one to another. One character has their story play out, then the proverbial baton is passed to another character. So don’t go into this thinking it’s about one character. It’s about a bunch of them.
Front and center, the acting in this movie is beyond phenomenal. While Dern and Tamblyn do great when the camera is on them, the real powerhouse acting doesn’t kick in until Ortiz and Burstyn share screen time. The emotions that she brings to Helen feel so real, I would swear that she wasn’t acting. She is a woman struggling with handling her house being burnt down, painting a pretty vivid picture of what she was doing at the time it was happening, scrambling to grab any of her valuables, but instead makes the time to grab her late husband’s prized baseball. She doesn’t even fully understand why she did, but she has such clear memories of what it meant to her husband, arguably the last thing of his she actually owns. It’s that perfect mix of uncertainty and absolute clarity that sucks you in completely to her performance. But it’s not just the melancholy that keeps your eyes glued to her. What really sells me on her realism is the little things, like when she says a small line like, “I’d invite you in, but, there’s no door.” Trying to make light of her situation, despite the pain she’s clearly working through. I especially love the sequence after when Helen and Daniel are at her neighbor’s home and when one of the neighbors, albeit for no real reason whatsoever, questions Daniel’s emotional investment in his clients. While it’s certainly a tick long-winded, essentially, he delivers a very human response saying that hearing these peoples’ stories and listening to their lives never gets old.
And that’s the best way to describe this movie. Human. It’s loaded with wonderfully acted scenes like these. From Hamm and Keener and a brief bit with Basso, it all feels real and I seriously love this movie for the acting alone.
Having said that, I might have a few critiques against the film. For one thing, why is this movie such a downer? Nearly every scene is about remorse and sadness with very little joy to be seen. Nostalgia isn’t simply remembering something and being sad about it. Take me for example, if you were to show me the movie SPACE JAM (1996), I’d get pretty excited about it. But that’s because I have such fond memories of this movie as a kid. I owned the movie, the soundtrack, loving especially the final track with a rapping Bugs Bunny. Dated, obviously, and I’m sure if I saw the movie again, I’d think it was stupid, but that doesn’t mean I look back on my memories of singing these songs and crying about it. If anything, I’m laughing and smiling about it because the interests I had as a kid are so amusing. But this movie is almost joyless. For what it is, it’s not poorly done in my opinion, but the concept of “nostalgia” has less depressing avenues to explore.
And speaking of depressing, let’s talk about the cardinal sin of this movie. Well… to be fair, I’m very conflicted about it. But anyway, so about three quarters of the way through the film, during Will (Jon Hamm) and Donna (Catherine Keener) and her teenage daughter’s (Annalise Basso) storyline, Basso’s character tragically dies. Then for the duration of the run time, it’s basically just Donna crying about it. Okay, before I sound insensitive, let me be clear here. The death of a child is a horrible thing and to Keener’s credit, she perfectly sells a traumatized mother who just lost her baby. It took me back just a few years ago when my aunt and uncle got word that my cousin, their son, had just died in his sleep. Keener’s performance is hauntingly pitch perfect with the way my aunt was. In utter shock, crying to point of being unable to breathe, it’s a hard thing to watch.
But here’s the thing with this movie… by the near definition of its very title, is about reminiscing about the past. From an artistic and narrative standpoint, what the hell does Basso’s character’s death have to do with anything relating to this movie’s ideas? Don’t get me wrong, there’s some strong and powerful statements here. Her dad, I think, states that twenty years ago, all you had to do to get to know someone after they passed away was to open a few photo albums, or something to that effect and you can get that eyeful of who they were. But because our current youth is so drowned in technology, phones, laptops, etc., and social media that not all parents are directly linked to, these parents have no means of accessing their daughter’s laptop to know what she was like. Hell, I admit that this stuck with me so well that I myself have written out a list of passwords for my parents in an envelope and stuffed it in my desk drawer just in case something were to, God forbid, happen to me, they can explore the side of me that they don’t know. But at the end of the day, nothing about Basso’s death has anything to do with nostalgia. It’s just tragedy and sadness for the sake of having tragedy and sadness. It’s like the writers had suddenly got an idea for another movie tackling the subject of a dead child and somehow one of its scenes got misplaced into this movie.
And like I said, that’s all this movie is for the rest of it: Donna being sad about her daughter’s death. Oh, and a bonus scene of Donna and her husband catching up with their daughter’s friends and how guilty she feels about being alive and not her friend. Again, none of this relates to “nostalgia” in any way. It’s powerful stuff, but it horrendously out of place.
Overall, I kind of dig this movie. I can’t pretend that it’s anything particularly great, but the acting alone was worth the price of admission. Everyone brought their A game and it’s so easy to get sucked in. The only problem is the last third, or quarter of the film that almost has nothing to do with nostalgia, and as a result, really hurts the film, and that the movie is a little too joyless as a whole package. But I liked it and I do recommend seeing it. It’s no movie of the year, but if you see it in your local cinema, I say check it out of you’ve got the time. Stick with a matinee showing or wait for a discount day, just to be safe, as I do think this won’t be for everyone. These memories can be a little too sad at times, but it’s powerful to see them lived out.
My honest rating for NOSTALGIA: a strong 3/5