Nostalgia is director Mark Pellington and screenwriter Alex Ross Perry's collaborative effort that could have been aptly subtitled, "The Objects in Your Life." The big question that's raised here is whether (for example) all that bric-a-brac you've accumulated up in the attic over the years is worth saving (and perhaps venerating) or is simply a collection of junk that needs to be thrown out. Nostalgia focuses on these objects and one in particular (an old baseball signed by Ted Williams) that becomes a MacGuffin of sorts, connecting two disparate stories which constitute the bulk of the proceedings in a narrative that can be best classified as an ensemble piece.
Perry's tale begins deceptively, focusing on Daniel (John Ortiz) an insurance assessor/adjuster, who appears to revel in listening to claimant's confessions regarding the aforementioned objects. Daniel's first visit is with a curmudgeon, Ronald (Bruce Dern), who balks at going through his accumulated "stuff" looking for valuables to the chagrin of his granddaughter, Bethany, who obviously feels that parting with some of the bric-a-brac, is a practical and worthwhile idea (owing to the potential financial remuneration involved).
Daniel's meditation on the existential value of these nostalgic remnants sets the stage for his second visit with Helen (Ellen Burstyn), who has just lost her home in a fire. As Chuck Bowen writes in Slant, all the characters are "suffering saints" and "every scene concerns people's attachments to things that trigger past moments."
Perry hands Bustyn a very long-winded monologue who meditates on the importance of her late husband's baseball, so intricately tied up with their life together. At first she appears overly attached to the baseball and just like Bethany, her son and daughter-in-law feel such an attachment unhealthy.
But eventually Helen comes around and decides on a trek to Las Vegas where she agrees to sell the ball to a collector, Will (Jon Hamm). Before we move on to the third story, the ball inspires another long monologue about the scourge of old age where Helen mournfully acknowledges she'll pass on and will be forgotten.
Once the baton is passed, Will is now the focus of a narrative that emphasizes his lack of fulfillment, due a heartbreaking divorce with his ex-wife. He visits his sister at the family home where they need to clean out the attic. The objects there (including the swimming pool) evoke childhood memories for Will but all the meditation brings the narrative to a virtual standstill.
Suddenly, out of the blue, Perry injects a family tragedy to spice up the drama in the form of the death of the sister's daughter, killed in a freak car accident. Catherine Keener, as the sister, gives the strongest performance in the film, as she breaks down over the death of her child. Nonetheless Perry's handling of his theme about the objects in your life goes awry when he has the father of the girl (James Le Gros) bemoaning how all her photos have been lost once her cell and iPad are destroyed in the car accident.
Ray Green writing in The Wrap correctly notes Perry's faux pas: "Apparently Hamm and LeGros have never heard of social media, where the average teen's every meal, night out and camping trip is chronicled across friends' profiles in greater detail than Boswell gave to his "Life of Samuel Johnson." It's a straw-man argument, and a fusty old-guy one at that."
Ultimately Nostalgia doesn't have much to say and is dependent on its classical sounding score, which intrudes into almost every scene, and attempts to create more feeling than what is actually written on each page of this well-meaning but shallow screenplay.