By Lucas Allen
Among the most buzz-worthy movies of the awards season, probably the one title most likely to take home Best Picture at this April’s Academy Awards is the independent drama “Nomadland.” Based on the 2017 nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder, the movie was written, produced, edited and directed by groundbreaking filmmaker Chloe Zhao, who certainly poured her heart into her project. The movie is both a road trip drama and a pseudo-documentary with real-life “nomads” populating the film.
Recently widowed Fern (Oscar-winner Frances McDormand) leaves the town of Empire, Nevada, in a van after she loses her mining job because of the economic collapse. She tries to get back to work by taking a temp job working at an Amazon warehouse. Then her fellow worker Linda (Linda May) introduces her to a special community of people living life on the road called nomads. She learns about it through a Rubber Tramps Rendezvous seminar headed by Bob (Bob Wells), who teaches the ins and outs of surviving and persevering through the confines of the American West.
Among those Fern gets to know, David (David Strathairn) takes a friendly interest in her though she’s not ready to fall in love again. Then there’s Swankie (Charlene Swankie) suffering from a terminal illness while spending her final months sight-seeing the country. Throughout one year, Fern experiences the good times and the hardships of living life on the road. However, she has trouble opening up to others when she’s still dealing with grief.
The best way to describe this movie, is that it’s a quiet experience when you’re following the main character through many great looking areas of our country. It’s not going for anything flashy or stylish, but it feels more like a window to a side of America we’ve not seen before. Once the nomads are introduced, you’ll find yourself wanting to bond with these people and become emotionally invested in their daily lives. Using some real-life members of the community adds to the authenticity of the film’s story.
If anything, the visual appeal of this film stems from cinematographer Joshua James Richards, who’s uses color filters to represent the natural and unnatural look at the American landscape. The way it was shot and edited, it’s like watching a documentary, making you forget at times you’re following a fictional character. Some may find it boring to watch, but the whole thing works on a storytelling level that you have to appreciate the filmmaker for taking us on a journey of rediscovery.
One thing everybody can agree on about this film is the extraordinary work of McDormand giving a very realistic and grounded portrayal of an older woman finding herself again through her travels. Much like her other award-winning performances in “Fargo” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” she finds the right tone and quirk to her characters making her stand out among other female performances this past year. The only other notable actor in the movie is Strathairn, who shares his scenes with McDormand by adding his own unique quirk to his character. Also, props to the real-life Nomads May, Wells, and Swankie for being genuine with their acting.
It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but there’s a lot to appreciate, with “Nomadland” offering a wonderful glimpse into a part of our country not many people know about but could still learn from. Certainly a shoo-in to sweep the Oscars this year, so definitely see it on the big screen (or exclusively on Hulu if you prefer it) and experience the journey for yourself.
THE MOVIE’S RATING: R (for some full nudity)
THE CRITIC’S RATING: 3.5 Stars (Out of Four)