The Oscar Project Reviews
Part documentary, part rumination on a subset of our world that have been left behind, Nomadland is an absolute gem of a film that must be seen to be understood.
On the face of it, it's difficult to see how a nearly two hour film about a woman who lives in her van can be engaging and interesting, but director Chloé Zhao delivers in this meditative film. The story is simple as it follows Fern (Frances McDormand) as she travels from place to place, after losing her husband and her job. She is new to the nomadic lifestyle, but is learning quickly as she interacts with fellow nomads across the country. She eventually meets Dave (David Strathairn) at one stop and the pair strike up a friendship that brings their paths across one another several times throughout the film.
You might be asking, where's the conflict in this film? It was a question I consistently asked before watching it, but was surprised to see it materialize on the screen in unlikely places. There is the obvious pull of the relationship with Dave when he decides to settle down with his son and grandson, but there are other smaller things as well. Fern has to learn how to dispose of her own waste on the road. She has to deal with a flat tire and more serious mechanical issues with her van which she turns to her own family for help. While some of these elements are certainly manufactured for the film, they felt real and natural things for someone living this lifestyle to face.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the cinematography and scenic nature of this film. The majority takes place in the Western United States, out on open roads and vast deserts with mountains in the distance. Only when Fern has to ask her family for help do you get any sense that anything larger than a one stop-light town exists in this world. It's extremely refreshing and the entire film has a casual pace that lets the viewer relax and be at one with their own thoughts.
If I didn't know who McDormand and Strathairn were and you put this film in front of me, positioned as a documentary about nomads, I would completely believe you. There is nothing forced in the film and that's what feels so great about it. The two leads are surrounded by actual nomads used to shoot the film and these lend an air of credibility to it.
The film is well deserving of the many accolades it has already received and I expect it to bring home several more at the Oscars in April.
9 out of 10
Nomadland is available to stream on Hulu.