Nomadland was one of the films that was at or near the top of many critics for 2020, but it was not one that I was able to see until this weekend, as it just now dropped on Hulu and in selected theaters. Many consider it a leading candidate for a possible Oscar nomination. That raises the question… is Nomadland really that good?
Short answer is… yes, it is really good.
Director Chloé Zhao provides a beautifully looking film as we follow the story of Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who had lost everything in the Great recession and decided to take to the American roads as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.
The movie has that distinct independent cinema feel to it as we do not have a true narrative plot to follow as much as we see a slice of life of Fern and what her days are like. She interacts with the people she meets along her journey and continues to find the little joys in life. Nomadland is a deep character study of Fern and the people that she meets on her trip, and it is compelling to watch.
Frances McDormand is wonderful as she always is, but this is an even more impressive performance considering many of the other people in the movie are real life nomads, including Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells from the film. Many times the use of untrained actors is a stunt, trying to draw attention to the film and show how “unconventional” it is trying to be. Many times, these stunts backfire because of the untrained actors and their lack of “acting” ability. However, the characters in Nomadland are real and believable, giving the film a natural feel. These non-actors do a really great job here.
The film does have a slow pace to it, but since the plot is an extremely limited aspect of the movie, there is not a really need to go fast. The imagery of the American West is lovely and plays to support the decisions of these nomads to travel the land instead of going into the bustling modern life. There is a theme within the movie of a rejection of putting down roots, despite the draw that it creates. David Strathairn is one of the other career actors involved here as Dave, whose ties to the home become strong and tests his feelings for Fern.
This was a enjoyable, engaging film that has a great central performance and beautiful cinematography. Chloé Zhao does a masterful job on only her second feature film (and it makes me fascinated to see her MCU film late in 2021, The Eternals).