NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2020 REVIEW! Frances McDormand is one of my favorite actresses, so it is no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed her performance in Chloe Zhao‘s latest film, Nomadland. Based on the book by Jessica Bruder, the film explores the life of a woman named Fern (McDormand) who lives on the road in her van. It explores an entire culture of people that live in this manner and even has anthropological importance.
Fern’s husband, Bo, passes away before the start of the film. She loses their home during the Great Recession of 2008 and has since resorted to traveling around the United States in her van, picking up seasonal work at places like Amazon warehouses and state parks. There is a community of people that live in the same way that Fern becomes close with. Every year there’s a meeting of “nomads” where there are speakers to talk about things like how to weatherproof your van/RV and what kind of bucket to use as a toilet, among other things. The fellow nomads commune and commiserate over their chosen lifestyles.
Nomadland feels like a documentary because of how real the performances by Frances McDormand and all the other actors are. I especially enjoy Linda May’s performance as Linda and Swankie’s performance as Swankie. These are two of Fern’s closest nomad comrades amongst a sea of fellow travelers. David Strathairn is also great as Dave, a fellow nomad who has a bit of a thing for Fern.
“…shows Fern working construction and doing all these things that typically only men do…”
The cinematography by Joshua James Richards can sometimes take on a Terrence Malick-esque magic. Chloe Zhao did a fantastic job all around in what must have been an exhaustive project. The film also asks questions about the importance we put on material things and the toll that capitalism has taken on our collective lives. It’s a very American film that celebrates the country while also taking it to task.
I have a feeling that Frances McDormand might get yet another Oscar nomination for this film. It’s the kind of movie that the Academy would love, theoretically, and it fits the inclusion criteria as well. Of course, there are still many, many films I haven’t seen or haven’t even been released yet that could also go into consideration, but this one is easily a shoo-in for at least a Best Actress nomination. We shall see, though.
Nomadland is quiet and meditative. It shows us a side of America that most of us would never have considered. It’s a modern-day Grapes Of Wrath meets On The Road that puts a woman into a situation where we usually only see men. It shows Fern working construction and doing all these things that typically only men do. That kind of representation is important. It’s also crucial for us as a country to consider the after-effects of the Great Recession and the current economic depression we are experiencing and how real people face these problems. Nomadland is a wonderful exploratory mission into real American life. I can’t wait for everyone else to see it.
Nomadland screened at the 2020 New York Film Festival.
"…explores an entire culture of people...has anthropological importance."