"Can what we have in our hands be the same that we have in our hearts?"
This line of dialogue from Mark Pellington's Nostalgia seems to sum up the film's thesis. The film seeks to ponder the nature of stuff. Do our possessions help the memories of us last? This point is made early and then over and over again. The film decides early on that they do and then for two hours pontificates and preaches instead of telling a compelling story.
The film is structured as an interconnected series of vignettes that are separated by swaths of color and light. Daniel (John Ortiz) is an insurance assessor who seems to relish is hearing bereaved people tell their stories. He first meets Ronald (Bruce Dern) who is not excited to have his stuff shifted through for valuables. His granddaughter (Amber Tamblyn) feels attacked by his unwillingness to go through his stuff. This carries out in two long conversations that reflect on the existential nature of our possessions.
This continues on as Daniel meets Helen (Ellen Burstyn) who has lost her home and most of her possessions in a fire. She holds onto a prized baseball that has been in her husband's family for decades. She decides, after another long philosophical conversation, to see the baseball to Will (Jon Hamm) a professional collector. This leads to the films unnecessarily dour and melancholy final act involving Will's sister(Catherine Keener) and her daughter.
Nostalgia was written by Alex Ross Perry whose screenplays and films are usually full of bickering and narcissism. This hardly feels like his work unless it is meant as some sort of weird joke. Pellington seems to relish in the anguish and misery of these characters. He has assembled a hell of a cast but the film never moves past what feels like a college thesis on the nature of nostalgia and possessions.
There is no variation in the film's tone for its full two hours. Nostalgia wallows in the grandiloquent dialogue. Every character is suffering to a degree that makes them seem profound in the filmmaker's eyes. This never translates into feeling. None of the interactions feel real as people seeped in this kind of suffering don't often have the elegance to express profundities to random strangers that appear in their time of need.
Stuck on a one-noted thesis that never translates into an actual story, Nostalgia is a miserable, insufferable watch and maybe a contender for one of the worst films of the year.