In theaters this Friday from writer/director Mark Pellington and Bleeker Street is the story of lives, love and loss all wrapped around “Nostalgia.”
Ronnie Ashemore (Bruce Dern) is an elderly man who is surrounded by his life of the written word and when visited by insurance agent Daniel Kalman (John Ortiz). Having a look around at the behest of Ronnie’s granddaughter, the elderly gentleman makes it clear that there is no reason for him to leave his home. Daniel listens as Ronnie makes it clear that although he is surrounded by the life he shared with family, others might see it all as trash.
Daniel next meets Helen Greer (Ellen Burstyn), a widower who he finds sitting in the midst of ashes where her house once stood. Recalling the events of the fire, Helen explains the irony of the things she chose to save before the firemen came in to save her. One such item is a baseball that belonged to her late husband and she can’t explain why she saved it.
Staying with her son Henry (Nick Offerman), Helen feels the pressure he is placing on her to consider assisted living. Helen feels the need to break away and packs the saved belongings and heads for Las Vegas to meet Will Beam (Jon Hamm) to talk to him about the ball. Their conversation turns nostalgic on the power that personal possessions have over each of them.
Will is off for the weekend to help his sister Donna (Catherine Keener) clear out their family home since their parents have moved to Florida. Making trip after trip to a dumpster outside the house, each decides they will take a few things but get rid of everything else. Donna wants daughter Tallie (Annalise Basso) to go through the attic but the young girl makes it clear that this is Donna and Will’s history — not hers. Instead, Tallie wants to be with her friends and live in the now.
All of that comes to a screeching halt as Donna, husband Patrick (James LeGros) and Will come to terms with the memories of childhood, places we live, objects held dear and the technology that has changed the feeling of nostalgia.
Burstyn as Helen is an absolute treasure and every time she is on screen I stop in my tracks. In this role, she is a widower who has been living on her own but all of that changes in a split second. Watching Burstyn take this character so deep kept me absolutely invested and put my heart through the ringer. Everything she said and every emotion poured out is believable because it is life and even the character Helen knows we don’t get out alive. The scene between Helen and the insurance appraiser in the soot is just a true and brain-twisting as her realizations with Will and a baseball. Thank you, Ellen for an endearing realistic perspective like no other.
Hamm as Will is a man who hides loss behind his collectibles yet how could he know that the moments with Helen would prepare him for what is to come. Going through his parent’s home, this character takes the attitude that he’s there to clean out, reminisce a little with sister Donna and move on. Hamm gives such a strong performance and makes it look amazingly easy but let me say when Hamm gets teary-eyed — it hurts. Keener as Donna is a woman who is watching her teen daughter grow up so very quickly has been taking care of her parents and now seeing her childhood close down for the last time. If that isn’t enough, life has thrown her the cruelest hit of all. Keener doesn’t hold back and she certainly gave me a reason to think about her role for several days — she is that powerful.
LeGros as Patrick is a husband who has to be the shoulder his wife needs but also deals with the reality that there was once a time when photographs were everything. Now with cell phones, if that is destroyed then so are the pictures people would normally have as photographs on paper. Dern as Ronnie has a smaller role but it isn’t any less impactful. He also understands the life he has led and those he spent his life loving making no apologies for either.
Other cast includes Bella Pellington, Tamar Pelzig, Romy Rosemont, Amber Tamblyn, Ashlyn Williams, Jennifer Mudge, Chris Marquette, Mark Marcarian, Anna O’Bryan, Joanna Going, Lindsey Kraft, Beth Grant, Patton Oswalt and Hugo Armstrong.
“Nostalgia” is a film that is going to challenge everyone’s perception of life. It is true that people of my age hold things dear because that is how we were raised. I was shown how to preserve photographs, baby books, family bibles, baptism gowns and family heirloom jewelry because they are a piece of history that I wanted to pass on to my children. Fortunately, my children are the same and often one will ask if I have something specific from their childhood and are thrilled when I do.
The pull between the objects and our emotions creates a bond that can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. The blessing is for family members who are thrilled to get beloved items and the curse are the family members that don’t share the feelings and waste no time in turning everything over for donation fodder.
The film brings out the issue of how easy it is to lose mementos because we have become a world of snapping pictures with our phones or shooting video thinking we will download them later — but rarely do. In an instant, the memories we took the time to ‘preserve’ are lost with a phone dropped in water or just a lost phone period.
“Nostalgia” also brings us into the lives of these characters that are so relatable because everything they are experiencing, we have all experienced with no exception. The loss of parents or loved ones, getting older and looking back means holding the items that represent milestones in our lives and the lives of those we love, and deciding when it is time to let the weight of those things go to find a freedom we didn’t know possible.
In truth we are such emotional packrats, some of us just let what’s inside leak out into our closets, storage rooms and lives.
I love this film, absolutely love it and am unapologetic about it. The cast is completely fascinating and sheer perfection bringing it all together beautifully, sadly and stunningly. The story is real, authentic and so damn emotional that for a moment I wasn’t thrilled to feel so much so fast. That’s life right?
In the end — it is the memories of the lives lived.