Chew's Reviews - Nostalgia

Nostalgia review starring Jon Hamm

By Gary Chew | February 28, 2018 |    

Other than “Seven Things You Can't Say On TV,” George Carlin's funniest bit is his rant about the stuff all of us accumulate over time in our closets, garages, attics, basements and rented storage lockers.

That, to a totally less humorous degree, is what “Nostalgia” is about. Indeed, humor is nonexistent in this jerker of copious tears. The film also rubbed me a bit the wrong way since all the characters in it are people who have lots of, as Carlin put it, stuff; like pretty, nice, large homes, cars and all-sparkly jewelry, etc. No one in this photo play has ever had to trek Skid Row.

Although everyone depicted in “Nostalgia” is a human being with real emotions, sympathy comes in short supply, primarily because of all the back and forth about how much money their stuff is worth; usually after someone in the family has died or if, say, somebody's home accidentally burns down.

That's Helen's problem. Ellen Burstyn plays a widow whose residence is in ashes as the movie slips into the comfort of its lowest gear. She's pouring out her grief over the loss of her home and her earlier departed husband who had in his “stuff collection” an autographed baseball with a Red Sox outfielder's name on it: Ted Williams. Way too much dialogue between Helen and her insurance man is spent on the damned ball as the investigator drops by the site of her conflagration to insure his insurance company isn't being duped by some deceitful, old woman. Don't worry, the Oscar-winning Burstyn still has it. John Ortiz plays the insurance agent.

“Nostalgia” slogs on in the style of a slow motion relay race. Helen hooks up with Will (Jon Hamm). He's lives in Vegas doing business on The Strip buying and reselling high grade memorial family stuff. Oh, the money he's making. Doing well, yes. But he's long been divorced and simply shut down in terms of having a significant other. He only seems close to his older sister, Donna (Catherine Keener).

You'll never guess what Donna and Will have on their plate. Yes, they have to go through all the stuff still in their parent's empty, but nifty two-story in SoCal since mom and dad, much earlier, took off to put down roots near a Florida beach.

The focus is on stuff and just what stuff remains really important due to what memories are attached to certain stuff. But, hark. Donna's college-age daughter, Tallie (Annalise Basso), shows up to help Donna and Will sort the stuff. After a nanosecond, Tallie is bored and asks permission to ditch the scene doing the stuff stuff. It's a good and brief scene, though … and., an important one.

At this point and on to close, “Nostalgia” shifts to second gear, but still in slo-mo. All the unhappiness is subsumed by full-bore grief. The score seems to slip into an even more minor key … if that were musically possible. All actors show just how good they are seeming to be in a state of uncontrollable anguish. Keener is charged with taking the largest load of that burden. And does she do it!

The film might work better on the stage. No, I mean a theater stage. Alas “Nostalgia” made me think of the later films of Terence Malick, but with less syrup.

There's a wise saying from a 20th century literary figure that goes like this: “I cling like a miser to the freedom I lose when surrounded by an abundance of things.” That concept has stuck in my brain for decades now. Thus and thereby, I confess to you why I was not taken by the stuff of this motion picture directed by Mark Pellington, although it and his intent … I'm certain … are sincere and quite important for the young and old of us all.
Copyright © 2018 by Gary Chew. All rights reserved.


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