Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jon Hamm, Ellen Burstyn, Catherine Keener, John Ortiz, Bruce Dern, James Le Gros, Amber Tamblyn, Chris Marquette, Annalise Basso, Nick Offerman, Jennifer Mudge, Hugo Armstrong, Romy Rosemont, Shinelle Azoroh, Beth Grant, Arye Gross, Joanna Going, Mikey Madison, Patton Oswalt
Written by: Alex Ross Perry, based on a story by Mark Pellington, Alex Ross Perry
Directed by: Mark Pellington
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 114
Date: 02/16/2018

Nostalgia (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Birthright Stuff

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This soft-textured, dreamy, languid drama drifts appealingly from character to character, somehow finding profound emotional weight and layers in the relationships between humans and their belongings.

In Nostalgia, several characters take stock of their, and their family's, personal possessions at the time of death and disaster. An insurance agent (John Ortiz) visits an old man (Bruce Dern), who doesn't seem to care what happens to his stuff; his granddaughter (Amber Tamblyn) would like him to choose something meaningful to leave to her. A woman's house burns down and the only thing she can save is her late husband's prize autographed baseball.

The woman, Helen (Ellen Burstyn), takes the ball to a specialist, Will (Jon Hamm), and learns its value. Her son (Nick Offerman) is torn between wanting the ball and wanting his mother's happiness. Then, Will visits his sister, Donna (Catherine Keener), to help clean out an attic full of their parents' stuff; but tragedy strikes again.

Written by the talented Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel, Listen Up Philip) and directed by former music video maker Mark Pellington, Nostalgia is a fine combination of visuals and content, and benefits from asking its very unusual question. What do the things that people leave behind mean? Why do some things mean more than others? How are memories connected? What happens when someone's memories are impermanent?

A great cast helps things, although the movie seems a little uneven. At first, it looks as if Ortiz's insurance man might be a great connective device, something of an angel who helps all the characters in the film; yet, even though he's quite likable, he disappears early.

Some characters get a great deal of screen time, while other talented actors — like James LeGros and Patton Oswalt — only appear briefly, even though they're all introduced with the same weight. Moreover, the movie sometimes detours off course in an effort to emotionally pre-load its themes. Nostalgia could have been more balanced, but it could not be more delicate. It's still a moving, lovely effort.

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