Dir: Chloe Zhao. Starring; Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May. Rated R. Color. 107 Minutes.
Allow me to level with you straight out of the gate before my full analysis of this picture. “Nomadland” is being heralded by critics and film festivals around the world as one of the best movies of the year. Look, “Nomadland” is without question a solid movie, but it is way over rated. Similar to David Fincher’s “Mank” that was released late last year, it checks off all the boxes for us film nerds to nerd-gasm over, which they are doing, but it really doesn’t say anything. “Nomadland” parades itself as being ‘woke’ whilst understanding a culture not often thought of. Is it though? Let us dive in here.
Based on a true story, “Nomadland” centers around a woman that has lost everything. In 2011 Fern (Frances McDormand), lived for years in Nevada while her husband worked for a sheetrock mining company. Bad situations pile up very quickly. Her husband Bo dies and her company owned housing in the town of Empire is pulled out from under her. The hammering of how awful corporations are begins.
Fern’s mind is far from being in a solid sense of mental state. Out of desperation, the aging woman turns her van into her house. In order to make a few bucks to survive Fern takes up a packaging job at Amazon as the company is desperate for people with Christmas looming. Working for the global tech giant has some ‘benefits’ if you want to call it that. She is allowed free space to live at an itinerant workers trailer park. The first of many points along the journey of this film that hammers home how f-up big business is.
The temporary gig is winding down and Fern meets Linda May, played by the real life character of the same name. Linda invites Fern to come to Arizona in order to see what the ‘CamperForce’ is all about. This is a harbor for temporary workers from all different backgrounds living the best that they can. With work in Nevada all dried up Fern is forced to travel across state lines to see what possibilities could exist for an old woman. Arriving at a rock-quarry, Fern runs into a ‘camp host’ named Dave (David Strathairn). Dave eventually helps Fern get a job as a cook in a mall in South Dakota, all the while creating a relationship that could potentially turn romantic. From there the journey of a woman settling down into a nomadic life is portrayed similar to any other character in the world.
“Nomadland” is a double-edged sword. Other than McDormand and Strathairn, the cast is comprised of real people living in the lifestyle being portrayed. Yes Frances and David give excellent performances as always, blah-blah. But there is a level of how a Hollywood movie with big stars is somewhat taking advantage of these communities in order to get nominated for awards. I am not accusing the filmmakers of doing so intentionally, but at the same time it’s kind of tone deaf. “Nomadland” wants to parade itself as a portrayal of the downtrodden society similar to a documentary, which it is not. How much money was spent on making this movie? It also tries way too hard, particularly with its visuals. Cinematographer Joshua James Richards crafts some beautiful images, but how many random shots of cactus’s while the sun goes down that have nothing to do with the story do we need? That is just showing off how pretty you can make a thing look. That is also not what would be characterized as good filmmaking.
No question “Nomadland” is a solid piece. But that is all this film is, solid. It is also exploitative and just plain cocky. Have a gander at the film for yourself, but do not expect a transcendent piece of work by any means.