“Nomadland”- Movie Review

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I am terrible at keeping up with Oscar races. Makes sense, considering I suck at keeping up with anything popular. I have a bad habit of discovering good things after the fact, and the movie we’re taking a look at today is no exception.

Nomadland is directed, written and edited by Chloe Zao and is based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. Frances McDormand takes center stage as Fern, a woman who has lost both her job and her husband following the closure of the local power plant. With nothing else to keep her rooted in the town, Fern decides to sell most of her belongings, buys a van and travels the country, earning a meager living through seasonal jobs here and there. Along the way she meets many more just like her- people who’ve chosen to leave the luxuries of the modern world behind for a freer, more fluid life on the road. And through her travels and her closeness to the community, Fern comes to embrace her life as a 21st century nomad.

Like most award-nominated films, I didn’t hear about Nomadland until a few short weeks ago, just as it started to get some major buzz. At the time of writing this, the film has been showered with praise. It’s been recognized as one of the top ten films of 2020 by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review. it’s won two Golden Globe awards, one for best picture and the other for best director. With all the love it’s getting, I have to wonder, is it as good as everyone is making it out to be? Does it really deserve all the hype, all of the awards, all of the recognition?

Sure.

Nomadland is a really, really good movie, one that I highly enjoyed. Though it never quite crossed into “loving it” territory for me, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why. The film is impeccably made. Chloe Zao did a great job at taking fictionalized material and crafting it in such a way that it winds up feeling nothing like fiction. Watching this movie is like watching a documentary. Zhao’s direction and the cinematography gives the movie a naturalistic look and vibe. The actors don’t feel like actors. Even the more famous faces- those of Frances McDormand and David Strathaim-blend in perfectly with the rest. They all feel like real people whose lives we’re being offered a peek into. It helps that a lot of the actors (I think) aren’t actors at all, but real life people who follow the nomadic lifestyle. Case in point- Bob Wells, a real life vandweller and Youtuber whose featured in the film. The rest of the supporting cast (again, I think) are complete unknowns. If they are actors, that only accentuates how good they come across on-screen.

In summary, everything production-wise is good, real good. It’s hard to pinpoint any major flaw. If you had to twist my arm and tell me to pick something, I would say that perhaps, for some people, the film may feel a little slow or the narrative underwhelming. Even then, I’d argue the film isn’t too much of a slow burn. It offers a glimpse into a lifestyle that I think most people know little about, and it captures the essence of nomadic living beautifully. It’s an excellent film. Although I didn’t find myself loving it by the end, I was still left feeling like I’d learned something. Chloe Zhao made a strong impression with Nomadland, which is the best compliment I could give to a movie like this. 

Cosmic Grade- 4/5 Stars

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