Running Time: 104 minutes
Written by: Chloé Zhao based on Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
Directed by: Chloé Zhao
Featuring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May and Swankie
Bob: “One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye. You know, I’ve met hundreds of people out here and I don’t ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, “I’ll see you down the road.” And I do. And whether it’s a month, or a year, or sometimes years, I see them again.”
Released on Blu-ray and DVD is the critically acclaimed drama “Nomadland” (2020) based on the book of the same name that delves into a class of people who live in their vehicles following work around parts of the US. Many have either lost jobs, homes, families or all three and are making livings any way they are able in most cases forming tight nit groups of friends with similar aims. This movie sets out to give these people a voice and show a way of life that works for them and illustrates clearly the changing nature of the US both economically and socially.
One of the great aspects of “Nomadland” is that it has been produced, directed and features mostly people who in the past have had no real voice in popular culture. With the advent of the pandemic, the reduced number of films being released over the past year or so and a release strategy that meant many people actually watched it, this meant that it had a very high profile leading to many awards and love from critics and audiences alike.
“Nomadland” is based around Fern who in 2011 loses her job after the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada, shuts down; she had worked there for years along with her husband, who recently died. Fern decides to sell most of her belongings and purchases a van to live in and travel the country searching for work. She takes a seasonal job at an Amazon fulfillment center through the winter. The plot and narrative of “Nomadland” is really framed as a road movie, one of the classic genres in US cinema. Throughout the film we stay with Fern entirely living through her eyes and experiences which are good, bad, uplifting, depressing and hopeful. We encounter other travellers and some have more of an effect on Fern than others which is one of the points of the film.
Written, edited, co-produced and directed by Chloé Zhao “Nomadland” is a testament to her work and perseverance but is told with a compassion and understanding that belies her relative inexperiance but this makes it a must watch. Zhao has written and directed two other features but “Nomadland” is such a step up in quality and understanding that it is no wonder she won two Oscars this year for it and nominated for two others. The film also has not only filmic in every sense of the word but because of two factors those being location shooting as well as real people being cast this also feels like a documentary, this is something that works well making it an almost unique feat, think Larry Clark’s “Kids” (1995) which did something similar.
This film would not be possible without the central performance of Frances McDormand who as Fern portrays a woman who knows what she wants but has trouble finding a way to get it, whilst she eschews company she cannot do what she wants without help, so it is great when she meets others of whom she needs help or when she can offer help. This is a truly touching performance and one that is less caustic than previous which for me is a welcome change, that is not to say that she cannot be cutting but in many of McDormand’s performances she is self assured and almost all knowing believing she is right but here she is out on a limb at times completely lost, I enjoyed that in a number of ways. Her main supporting co-star is David Strathairn who does everything so well that it is obvious he is a great actor. The rest if the cast is rounded out by real people that live this life for real so it feels right and this only aid the performances of all the actors.
“Nomadland” was nominated for six Oscars eventually winning three and well deserved they were for a film that has to be one of the best of the past eighteen months. It clearly illustrates the transient nature of life in the US and the way life can change without any real warning. The movie also reflects the politics of the time when it was made and possibly why someone like Trump was able to ascend the Presidency which again clearly indicates why people in hardship should be looked after and not left to fend for themselves. While not a film that offers any real solution it does show that we as people need each other to survive and to get on when we find it difficult. I recommend this movie highly and it is easily rewatchable.