December 4th, 2020
STARRING: FRANCES MCDORMAND; DAVID STRATHAIRN
DIRECTED BY: CHLOE ZHAO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
I was left speechless by the end of Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland. It’s fascinating, a film stripped down of everything. No flare, no CGI, no melodramatics, or massive budgets. Just a story about a woman named Fern (played spectacularly by Frances McDormand), who loses her husband after a long fight with cancer, sells all her stuff and decides to live her life as a nomad in the west. The story sounds simplistic because it is. It’s about shedding the excess, purging the things that can weigh a human down, where Fern finds solace and peace among others like her. It sounds romantic because it is, but Zhao does not sugar coat anything. The decision that Fern has made is a wild one. It’s certainly not for everyone, but Nomadland makes you empathize with Fern, look at the beauty of this earth through her eyes, and see that there is much to discover. Nomadland is the best film of 2020 and it will speak to the hearts and minds of everyone.
When Chloe Zhao had made her career breakout film The Rider it had won over critics nearly everywhere, telling the story of a bull rider that cracked his head open and had to decide if his life was more important than the sport that he loved. That was a story that captured the modern day cowboy and because it had zero known actors, it could have easily been described as a documentary. With Nomadland, McDormand steps into the lead role, but the result is close to the same, feeling incredibly authentic, with all the surrounding people played by actual nomad living folks. It starts with Fern, who before her husband’s death was laid off from the salt mine and everyone in her town relocated. Now she is selling her belongings from a storage unit and fixing her van to have all the capabilities to live in. A bed, a small toilet, stored food, dishes to eat on, and plenty of blankets to keep herself warm. She’s going on the road for good, because the road is where she is finding peace.
One of the interesting facts about Nomadland is that it feels incredibly apolitical, not a left or a right film, but just a human film. The screenplay is written by Zhao, from Jessica Bruder’s novel of the same name, and the structure of the story is entirely American. Fern’s path involves many of the struggles we have today. She picks up part-time work at an Amazon plant for the holiday season in Arizona, it’s just enough for her to last six months, but once she arrives at various nomad living areas, she becomes a member of the community quickly. We see the various ways people barter and trade goods, pick up odd quick jobs here and there, meet folks such as Linda May, a woman in her 70’s that found solace in being a friend to Fern’s, or Patty, a woman who was sick and tired of fighting cancer with chemotherapy and would rather live her life than watch it go by. And soon Fern meets Dave (played by the only other known actor David Strathairn), someone who shows an interest in her, but not in a romantic way, but more like two lost souls enjoying the company they keep. Moving from Nevada, to Arizona, to New Mexico, and along the way seeing the gorgeous nature that this planet has to offer.
It is the surrounding environment and technical grace of Nomadland that is possibly it’s greatest achievement. Chloe Zhao deserves every award coming to her, where Nomadland has a long line of success of artists, which starts with the director. Zhao is the editor, co-writer, obviously works hand and hand with cinematographer Joshua James Richards, and the two capture glorious sunsets, mixtures of colors that explode on the screen, proving that the greatest special effects are those that this planet gives us every day. Zhao has chosen a country style, lazy traveler score from Ludovico Einaudi that puts the audience in a mood of emotions, perfectly layered on top of this majestic piece of art.
Nomadland is easily a masterpiece, a word that feels equal to a loaded gun to use these days, but it just is. McDormand delivers some of her greatest work in an already illustrious career in acting. Her portrayal of Fern is a portrayal of herself, a much more internal performance than her work in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri because Nomadland is not a matter of “pretend”, but just a matter of life. We are all running from something, wishing we could turn off the noise on our phones, the noise on the TV, the noise in our busy heads, or the troubles that haunt us. Nomadland is an escape, albeit for a brief moment, but wow is it a beautiful escape.
NOMADLAND IS AVAILABLE IN A LIMITED RUN DECEMBER 4-11 IN THE FILM AT LINCOLN CENTER VIRTUAL CINEMA
Written by: Leo Brady