A chain of events — a fire and a car accident, all seen only in hindsight or off-screen — connect the characters in “Nostalgia,” a slow, talky and only faintly moving meditation on mortality and memory.
Despite the efforts of a strong ensemble cast — featuring Bruce Dern, John Ortiz, Ellen Burstyn, Nick Offerman, Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener and Patton Oswalt — the film fails to drive home its point, about the power of the stuff we leave behind when we die, with the same emotional punch that the people on-screen seem to be telegraphing: grief, longing, regret, resentment and sundry other flavors of moroseness. The movie amounts to, in the flippant words of Hamm’s character, a Las Vegas dealer in memorabilia who’s cleaning out his dead parents’ home with his sister (Keener), “such a bummer.”
Unfortunately, the cloud of gloom that hangs over this exercise in loss never parts, even for a brief glimmer of sunshine, ultimately failing to shed any insight on its dark subject that is especially profound or fresh. Cartoonist Roz Chast, whose memoir, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?,” dealt with disposing of her late parents’ belongings, managed to be wise, true, heartbreaking and funny, in ways that “Nostalgia” is not, and doesn’t even seem to aspire to.
We miss people, and we hold onto their physical traces — jewelry, photos, furniture — for sentimental reasons. That’s obvious, even to those of us who are confirmed acolytes in the church of decluttering guru Marie Kondo. But “Nostalgia,” which begins with the visit of an insurance assessor (Ortiz) to the untidy home of a man on death’s door (Dern) and ends with an accidental death, belabors this point, in a string of somber, pre-and post-mortem conversations over coffee, booze and the inevitable dumpster filled with the unwanted property of the recently deceased.
Ortiz’s earnest, sympathetic insurance man tells a client whose junk he combs that he gets paid whether or not he finds anything of value. Moviegoers hoping for something — anything — to take away from “Nostalgia” (other than a vague feeling of dysphoria, tinged with ennui) will not be similarly compensated.
R. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema and the Angelika Film Center Mosaic. Contains some coarse language. 114 minutes.