"Nomadland" stars Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, and Bob Wells. Released on January 29, 2021, the film is about a woman who travels across the American West as a modern-day nomad.
The film was written and directed by Chloé Zhao, who also directed "Songs My Brothers Taught Me" and "The Rider", and it is an adaptation of the 2017 novel of the same name by Jessica Bruder. You know what they say; if you lose a job, you find another one. Okay, I'm sure that no one has said that, but I can easily assume that it's true in many cases. We all have different ways of dealing with this situation, but little did I know there is one group of people with an intriguing solution to this dilemma: nomads. A nomad is a wanderer who travels across the country with a camper searching for a new job. In other words, they're people who are just trying to survive like us. The film I'll be talking about today explores a nomad's lifestyle after being affected by the Great Recession. It caught my attention because of this concept and Frances McDormand's involvement, who might be on her way to earning herself another Oscar nomination this year. More importantly, it's because of writer/director Chloé Zhao, who has become a household name through her filmography and is directing the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe film "Eternals". Sadly, I haven't seen any of her other two films she helmed before this one, so consider this review as my first experience with her filmmaking skills. With that said, let's see if this film is genuinely another big hit for the filmmaker.
The film follows a woman named Fern (McDormand) who has lost her job at the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada after it shuts down. She worked at the plant for years with her husband, who recently passed away. She then takes her van and travels across America in hopes of finding work. Along the way, Fern encounters other nomads who teach her the basics of surviving the open road. If there's one thing you should know about "Nomadland", it's that this isn't something that you would watch for entertainment. It's a film that examines a nomad's way of life from the perspective of one who recently lost everything. It's a film that you would watch to see what these people were going through during that time. It's heartbreaking, but it does feature a few bright spots to keep things from being too depressing, including a support system for nomads. The film managed to represent this balanced lifestyle artistically and emotionally. Along with this examination, the story also explores a woman's personal experience as a new nomad as she struggles with her loss. The presentation may not impress everyone due to the narrative's repetition and pacing. However, Chloé Zhao managed to transform this slow burn into a breathtaking and melancholy experience that accurately resembles real life. Her direction and screenplay were the things that should not go unnoticed because of her strong understanding of a nomad's way of living and her ability to balance out the emotions. She managed to explore both the good and the bad of being a nomad while also providing a sentimental and grounded tale about what it truly means to live. She might become a formidable competitor for this year's Best Director Oscar race. The cast was also worthy of my attention, especially Frances McDormand. Much like the film itself, her performance as Fern was subtle yet highly captivating and humane. David Strathairn was also terrific as David, one of the nomads that Fern befriends. The rest of the supporting cast consists of actual nomads who play fictionalized versions of themselves, such as Linda May and Bob Wells. By just being themselves, they succeeded in making their characters both authentic and heartfelt. A substantial amount of empathy within these characters helped build a strong connection between the film's concept and the viewers, including me. The cinematography by Joshua James Richards and Ludovico Einaudi's score were also the main highlights of the film. The former was excellent for showcasing the film's majestic sceneries with its wide-angle shots and lighting, and the latter had the proper balance of depression and beauty. I nearly teared up from listening to its soundtrack. It's that darn emotional.
Overall, "Nomadland" is a brilliant character study that truthfully captures the pain and hopefulness of living life on the open road. Aside from its minor pacing issues, this is a beautiful and delicate experience that honors the lesser-known people who genuinely know how to live. Because of its stellar cast, Zhao's masterful sense of direction, its superb script, and its gorgeous cinematography, the film truly earns its spot in the cinematic hall of fame. It's available to watch on Hulu, so please take the time to check this film out if you have a Hulu subscription. However, if you prefer to see it in the theater, that's fine too as it is worth seeing on the big screen for the cinematography alone. See you down the road.