This movie should be right in my wheelhouse. Since I collect memorabilia — sports, movie, and music items — I hate getting rid of anything, even if it means, like one character in the movie is accused of, spending more money on storage than the items are actually worth. Also, I’m a huge fan of Bruce Dern (and most of this cast). This should’ve been my Citizen Kane. Instead, everything about it was frustrating to watch.
We meet a lot of different folks, and we see how different items mean different things to people. It’s unfortunate that many of the conversations are ones that aren’t that interesting. For example, listening to somebody talk about how everyone downloads photos and doesn’t have still photos anymore…or having a character wonder why somebody would care about record albums when you can download the songs.
I thought of movies that had similar conversations in a much more interesting way. For example, listening to Steve Buscemi talk about blues albums and collectables in Ghost World. And in one segment, I actually cringe at how utterly ridiculous it is. Helen (Ellen Burstyn) has a baseball she saved when her house burned down. It meant the world to her late husband, and she has no clue why. Her son (Nick Offerman) wants it, but in reasons that aren’t exactly clear, she isn’t giving it to him. She instead finds a sports memorabilia collector (Jon Hamm). He seems more interested in its history than a normal dealer would be, but what blows my mind is that he tells her it’s worth between $80,000 and $100,000 and how a Ted Williams signed ball is rare. Now, Williams was born and raised here in San Diego, and I know collectables. You could find a signed ball from the Splendid Splinter for as low as $500. And besides, the signature was in poor condition. Now, had it been a ball signed by a bunch of baseball all-stars from that period, or a World Series ball; or, if it was a ball that had significance (say, Williams’ 500th home run ball).
It’s not just the collectables that bothered me. It was the people. John Ortiz, who I’ve loved on screen since discovering him in Jack Goes Boating in 2010 (I’ll forget about last year’s A Dog’s Purpose), walks through the beginning of this movie looking like Fred Armisen in Portlandia. It doesn’t seem the least bit believable that this insurance adjuster would care so much about items. It made his scene with Bruce Dern, one of my all-time favorites, so disappointing. A conversation about him dying and what his kids would want, or businesses nearby tearing everything down…could’ve all been thought provoking. The 1999 Chinese movie Shower talked about new buildings tearing down old, and it was rather powerful. Listening to an old coot talk about all the crap he has…not so much.
The idea of having intersecting stories is intriguing. And having people decide what to do with belongings — the dumpster or an antique store — perfect for a low-key film. It’s a shame a better movie wasn’t made. I was so bored, I started thinking of ways I would’ve done the story. Perhaps a movie that shows each person that gets the Ted Williams baseball. Follow it around the way the filmmakers followed the bill around in Twenty Bucks (that 1993 movie was a bit disappointing too, but the premise more intriguing).
Instead, we’re given characters that don’t speak like normal people, but like characters that a screenwriter is writing. It’s trying to be poetic and profound, but instead it just makes you go “huh?” It also feels a bit repetitive in what’s being conveyed.
It’s great seeing Ellen Burstyn, who young folks will know from Interstellar, but us old-timers loved in The Exorcist, The Last Picture Show, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and with Dern in The King of Marvin Gardens. She’s terrific as a traumatized widow. It is powerful seeing her saunter around her charred house. That’s ruined by Ortiz’ weird behavior.
After she gets the baseball to Hamm’s character, he visits his sister, played by Catherine Keener. The youngsters will know her for being the evil hypnotist in Get Out! Us old-timers love her in Being John Malkovich, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Please Give, Capote, and Out of Sight. The brother and sister are clearing out their family home, and it’s remotely interesting. A bit of tragedy occurs that feels forced; especially the maudlin and manipulative strings in the score that are begging you to cry.
The characters are all thinly drawn, and there’s not enough comedic moments to keep the story from being a borefest.
The rest of this terrific ensemble cast include Patton Oswalt, Joanna Going, Larry Wilmore, Amber Tamblyn, and James LeGros,
There are a few scenes that worked. One of them involved a teenager on crutches talking with grieving parents. Another scene about why the fireplace isn’t being used was interesting.
The good scenes were just few and far between.
Watching an episode of Storage Wars or Antique Roadshow would be more interesting than the few hours writer Alex Ross Perry wants us to invest in this.
1 ½ stars out of 5.