Movies & Television

Powerful and Painful: Mark Pellington's 'Nostalgia' Movie Review

Mark Pellington is a name any child of the 90’s (and beyond) should know. He started his career in short films, commercial work, and most memorably for many of us born in the MTV generation, an absolutely amazing run as a music video director, which he still does to this day, (most recently with Demi lovato and Silversun Pickups). Jeremy from Pearl Jam always stood out to me in terms of his early work for how it melted art with the bleak imagery and heavy themes of the song itself.

Mark Pellington is also very much a director who makes movies that the world isn’t ready for. Arlington Road dealt with American terrorism in such a scary and brilliant way people were too scared to praise it properly for how brave it was. Another film he made called I Melt With You resonated with me deeply (read more here), so naturally when I was approached to review his most recent Nostalgia movie, I was both eager and scared. Eager because I knew this man was about to broach something very taboo (as that is what he does), and when I heard “dark family drama’ I knew I was in for a very honest, raw, and genuine experience that would leave me both shaken and somewhat awoken to the fact that right now, this is all we have, and as much as the feeling of Nostalgia can be fun and take “us back”, it can also be damning to us, and this movie shows us that from all perspectives perfectly.

What Is Nostalgia About?

If you are not sold on the cast alone, you mustn’t be a fan of film and good actors and actresses.

For my Nostalgia movie review, I took a couple weeks to process it to truly do it justice before I started writing. Nostalgia is about just that. The name is not a misdirection. What one has to understand going into this movie is, nostalgia, like humor for example, is subjective. And the sad part is, no side is right or wrong. Some people just see old things as old things, and some people perceive them as memories, locked into place and captured. So for some, throwing away a piece of paper is throwing away a piece of paper but to others, it can feel like you are throwing memories away. Once you realize that and that there is no right or wrong way to be nostalgic or grieve, you will realize the impact this film will have.

First off, the cast he assembled for this film is one of the most impressive rosters of talent I have seen in recent film. From an opening scene with cinematic legend Bruce Dern talking to an insurance agent about how his life is being boiled down to a fiscal value based on what junk he has kept to Ellen Burstyn giving what is EASILY her best performance since Requiem for a Dream (that woman can break hearts with a monologue like she’s making toast, she makes it look that easy).

Also, anything with Jon Hamm is good, and Jon Hamm kills it in a small but very poignant part as the owner of a pawn shop who has the job of literally underpaying people for those very memories, but more on that later. Also keep your eyes out for Nick Offerman who plays a decidedly different character than you normally know of him but nails it, per usual.

Why Everyone Needs to See Nostalgia

I am pushing this film on you all on this very site for a specific reason. You (and many like you) really enjoy loud, CG heavy movie that go PEW PEW PEW and are littered with destruction and madness, but when the last time a movie made you FEEL something without needing all those smoke and mirror tricks?? What makes Mark Pellington’s work so remarkable to me is he still makes movies for people who like actual movies. People who have feelings and aren’t too scared to face them or hide behind a “two-hour space movie clusterfuck” to avoid said feelings.

He grabs you and makes you face them.

You may very well have to put one of your parents into a home one day, are you prepared for that? Are they? Do you know what they would bring, the objects that matter to them most? What about YOU? Does a picture of your Mother as a child hold weight to you because she gave birth to you or is it just a photo and nothing more?

Nostalgia dares to ask the audience this question and then has the genuine chutzpah to leave that for the viewer to answer for themselves. Yes, you are watching a movie about people transitioning in their lives, but put yourself in their shoes for a minute. There is a REALLY powerful scene near the beginning of the movie where Amber Tamblyn (nice to see her working again post Hollywood fallout, further proving Pellington is not like the others) where she talks to an insurance agent about the fact that SHE has to single-handedly make all of the most important decisions for a dying parent because SHE is closest in proximity, to which he basically responds:

Yeah, that is how this works.

Being someone who JUST PUT HIS FATHER INTO A HOME THIS WEEK, I can attest to the fact that statement is VERY much true, and the anguish it brings with it can be unbearable. The insurance guy also gets a very powerful monologue about why he does his job and why, as much as it may seem like it sucks, it doesn’t for him. It is a viewpoint I never considered and made me look at that aspect of work differently.

The Most Powerful Baseball in Film

Something I genuinely never thought I would never write in my life is the term “a baseball just made me cry”, but this film takes something as simple as a baseball (which I won’t spoil more deeply than that here) and goes on to make it symbolize ALL THE THINGS WE CLING TO FOR MEMORIES.

There is an exchange in the Nostalgia movie between Ellyn Burstyn’s Helen character and Jon Hamm’s Will (owner of aforementioned pawn shop) and if you just stop for a moment, shut the outside world out, and listen to the brevity of this exchange, you WILL realize, despite what Daniel Day-Lewis may say about the current state of filmmaking, there ARE good, genuine, character-driven films still getting made, and this is one of those movies.

A shining example of that, as a matter of fact.

One (Hu)man’s Trash is Another One’s Treasure

Nostalgia heals and nostalgia kills, and that is what makes the word and concept behind this movie echo so long after you watch it. The first problem with Nostalgia (not the film, the concept) is that it varies widely from one person to the next.

The next thing that makes it such an interesting taboo to breach (which is what Mark Pellington did here and has always done) is the fact that it IS a taboo. We do not talk about nostalgia when it comes to our personal lives, yet we see and feel it every day.

As opposed to that, the internet has birthed a new generation who think nostalgia means watching cartoons they grew up with. And while that is not wrong, that is NOT the nostalgia you will feel here. This is that “do I put my Dad into a home” and “do I sell this thing I have kept to remind me of someone because is it just a thing, or does it hold more than that to me?” kind of thing. For that reason, EVERYONE will walk away from this movie feeling differently. Some will be upset with the choices some characters made while others (at the same screening) will walk away feeling like some of them did the RIGHT thing, and again, in something as subjective as memories and nostalgia, it IS subjective so no one is right or wrong.

All feelings are justified.

See A Movie That Makes You FEEL Something

When it came time to write this Nostalgia Movie Review I was stuck for a moment. How do I tell people this story is good without ruining what makes it so powerful, and then it hit me. I don’t have to spoil anything. We ALL feel Nostalgia, so everything you need to see and experience this movie is already in place in you. Just be prepared for the movie to bring some of that to the surface. We can’t run from everything that scares us or is outside our comfort zone, and that is another subliminal I took away from this film.

Speaking of film….

The Overly Entitled Movie Goer of 2018

So everyone was all up in arms this year because they didn’t like how Luke Skywalker was portrayed in the most recent Star Wars movie. Don’t get me wrong, they are fun movies, but when grown men are on message boards sobbing about a fictional character in a sci-fi universe, something is off with us as a collective people. Those aren’t real emotions. That is NOSTALGIA once again, and no, you don’t hate the new Star Wars because you didn’t like the direction it took. You didn’t like it because (no offense) they aren’t making those movies for 40-50 year olds. They are making them for kids, which is their demo as they want to sell toys, and it is working so reassess your problems, people.

My point is, do you REALLY want to feel things or are you just online looking for something to whine and feel entitled about? Because if you want to see a film that garners genuine feelings, see Nostalgia. Mark Pellington did something amazing here and if this movie undersells because not enough people in spandex blowing up buildings are in it, I am literally gonna slap the whole world in its face.

Stop numbing your real feelings with faux feels. Realize, we will ALL GO THROUGH what the people in this movie go through at one point in our lives (hopefully minus the house fire) and to see and feel these things before they knock us down in real life is how we prepare. THESE are the kinds of movies the world needs right now, real talk.

BooHoo, But It Sounds Sad!

Here’s the thing about the Nostalgia Movie. It IS sad, and that is because life and nostalgia itself are sad. Not all the time, mind you, but we are at a point in humanity when we run from all our feelings or try to hide from them behind VR games or fancy phones glued to our hands. But we can’t. We just can’t. YOU are dying right now, in the Nietzsche (and literal) sense. What things do YOU have in order so your family isn’t inundated and overwhelmed? What about your spouse or your kids? Have you made it so they don’t have to make tough decisions two midnights to proverbial midnight?

These are but some of the questions Nostalgia has the balls to ask you, and you walk away from it looking inward, you really do. I mean, the funniest part in all this is I sat down to write a Nostalgia Movie Review after the movie finished and ended up writing a living will. REALLY!

Why?

Because I do not want anyone I love going through what some of the people in this movie had to go through. Quick question before we wrap this thing up. Have you weighed the ONE THING you would take if your house caught fire and you had no time to grab anything?

Yeah, few of us have, and that is another point this movie drives home. How prepared are ANY OF US for ANY tragedies, even if we know they are coming (like death)? We cope by gripping onto items that are priceless to some and just “things” to other people, and that is what makes nostalgia such a dangerous thing to feel. It can be internally misleading and sometimes inaccurate as we as a people tend to look in the rearview mirror so much we forget to look where we are actually driving.

Closing Thoughts on the Nostalgia Movie

I kept this review vague very much for a reason. Writers who have to spoil films to talk about them should not be reviewing films. It is our job to whet your appetites and then let you go satiate that hunger. It is not our job to ruin the power of the story itself by telling you all of its finite details.

We simply need to point out how powerful and poignant something is, and if you are wise enough, what you do next is up to you.

Also, if you have siblings or a parent who you may foresee getting sick, TALK ABOUT IT AND WHAT TO DO NEXT. Do not just wake up one day to a life that is spinning out of control because you let it. And remember, Nostalgia is a double-edged sword. It saves some and kills others, and this movie shows us that duality with glaring clarity.

Genuinely nice to see there are still real movies about real things getting made out there. Some may think this art form of film is dying, but as long as there are directors as brave as Mark Pellington and writers as raw as Alex Ross Perry (who penned this masterpiece), I think we may still have a chance.

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