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Review: Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener and others can’t move past ‘Nostalgia’s’ treacly musings

Jon Hamm in the movie "Nostalgia."
(Bleecker Street)

Stuff has meaning — that’s the not-quite-animating idea behind “Nostalgia,” a day-old news flash of a drama, delivered in weepy headlines posing as dialogue. An ensemble led by Jon Hamm, Ellen Burstyn and Catherine Keener finds unguarded moments of life, if not insight, as people grappling with loss. But the actors can’t turn the strained stabs at poetry into the affecting meditation that was clearly intended.

In attempting to explore how the material things we create, inherit and collect are infused with memories, director Mark Pellington occasionally achieves visual eloquence: stacks of decades-old Kodachrome slides, a rusted key in a pile of dead leaves. For those brief instants, the wordless ache of the imagery pierces the belabored sermonizing of Alex Ross Perry’s screenplay.

The films of indie auteur Perry (“Listen Up Philip”) are known for a certain verbosity, but here there’s no undertow, just bromides dressed up as profundities. As the multiple narrative strands move from character to character — a sympathetic insurance assessor (John Ortiz), a curmudgeonly pack rat (Bruce Dern), a widow (Burstyn) picking through the remnants after a house fire — the would-be medley quickly devolves into a series of actorly monologues on a thesis.

Hamm injects much-needed energy as a sports memorabilia trader who’s half-heartedly sorting through family possessions with his sister (a reliably subtle Keener). But by the time the movie invokes the gorgeously doleful Portuguese concept of saudade, the Hail Mary pass is as futile as the term’s mispronunciation is glaring.

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‘Nostalgia’

Rating: R, for some language

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Playing: The Landmark, West Los Angeles

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