“Nomadland” has been storming its way into awards season since its premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. Many critics’ groups and association awards have recognized Chloé Zhao’s superb direction in addition to incorporating Frances McDormand into their best leading actress categories. But even before its premiere, “Nomadland” was making some noise among Oscar pundits. So does it live up to the hype? Hmm.
Fern (McDormand) is set to embark on a new path: living the nomad lifestyle. Working seasonal jobs throughout the American West to survive while she lives in a van, Fern encounters numerous people from an array of walks of life. Her new form of living is certainly a solitary one, but it also explores the country’s fractured economic system.
Dealing with the death of her husband and refusing any assistance from close friends and family, Fern is also attempting to figure out her purpose. Zhao (2017’s “The Rider”) perfectly captures Fern’s loneliness and, at times, sadness with wide landscape shots. Visually informing the audience of the magnitude of this world, she shows its long roads and huge mountains, with nothing but nature surrounding this character on her journey. There are a few wide shots where the camera follows Fern walking, and the scenery is breathtaking. From the gorgeous sunsets to the view up high in enormous trees, the camera lingers for a few seconds for pure admiration. Needless to say, this film would’ve been an entirely different experience viewing it on the biggest screen possible. While the wide shots aid in emphasizing Fern’s loneliness, they also serve as a wide lens showcasing the number of individuals who opt for this lifestyle. Featuring actual nomads, this film follows these groups of people in their daily lives. Their gatherings provide a sense of community that’s often absent in families and cities. Some of them guide Fern through the pros and cons of the lifestyle and welcome her into their groups.
There’s a scene that’s incredibly moving involving a terminally ill woman and her wishes on how she wants to live her last days. This brings me to the incredible performance by McDormand (“Fargo” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), who meticulously conveys a cocktail of emotions without saying a word. Her ability to act alongside nonprofessional actors is a testament to her impeccable ability.
The stories we learn from the people Fern encounters range from grief to financial struggles to PTSD and more. Many talk about the unfortunate circumstance of working a steady job for decades, only to retire and receive benefits that aren’t enough to sustain a livelihood. Others lost their houses as a result of the economic crisis. “Nomadland” ultimately explores the meaning of home. There’s a line Fern delivers that may leave viewers contemplating: “I’m not homeless. I’m houseless.”
This film is a beautiful depiction of an often-ignored group of people. With memorable performances and a visually gorgeous tour of America’s West, “Nomadland” is a beautiful road trip down into a little-seen part of the country.
Rosa is a Rotten Tomatoes certified film critic who’s passionate about advocating for Latinx and female representation. She’s the co-founder and co-host of the podcast Latinx Lens, which is focused on representation and contribution of the Latinx community in Television and Film industry. She’s the assistant editor of ITOL (In Their Own League), a site and podcast dedicated to highlight women in the industry. She’s proud member of HCA (Hollywood Critics Association), LEJA (Latino Entertainment Journalists Association), OAFFC (Online Association of Female Film Critics). She’s a coffee addict that unapologetically loves pineapple on her pizza.