Nomadland (2020)

nomadland poster 2020 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Touching look about life's struggles


Movie Info

Movie Name: Nomadland

Studio:  Cor Cordium Productions

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  September 11, 2020 (Toronto International Film Festival)/September 11, 2020 (Venice Film Festival)/September 11, 2020 (Telluride Film Festival)/January 29, 2021 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

nomadland amazon warehouse work frances mcdormand

Amazon…the steady work

When the town of Empire lost the US Gypsum plant, Empire citizens lost the town.  Living in her van she’s named Vanguard, Fern (Frances McDormand) is now among a group of nomads that travel the roads of the United States looking for work as they live out of their four-wheeled homes.  Working the holidays at Amazon, Arizona in the winter, the Badlands in the summer, and farming potatoes in the fall, Fern is coming to terms with her new life…and what she has lost.

Directed by Chloé Zhao, Nomadland is an American drama.  Based on the 2017 Jessica Bruder nonfiction book Nomadland:  Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, the film premiered at multiple film festivals to rave reviews, but due to COVID-19, it saw a limited run in theaters and heavy streaming.  The film received Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress (McDormand) with nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Cinematography.

nomadland charlene swankie frances mcdormand

…but does she have a hot towel to offer her?

I really like films about what people would call “Americana” and how that is a sliding term.  When I heard about Nomadland, I really wanted to see it, and I’m glad I finally did.  Bittersweet, it is a story about the American trap and how the downside can be seen as liberating or an endless struggle.

McDormand’s character doesn’t really want to be out on the roads…at least at the beginning.  She tries to get work close to her former home and reluctantly hits the road when the holiday rush dries up.  She encounters people who do want to be there (or at least they say they do).  Some have forsaken their homes for lives in vehicles with enough money for gas and food and the freedom to see the world, but others (like McDormand’s character) are there out of necessity.  They can’t afford a home, they can’t get a job that pays enough, and they never will be able to have that life again…is it freedom to not have a home, but to be pooping in a bucket in your “living room” or is it just something you tell yourself to keep from being depressed?

nomadland frances mcdormand fern

The glamor of life on the road

McDormand is almost an active observer for much of the movie.  The film is largely populated by real people sometimes creating fictitious versions of themselves for the film.  As an observer, McDormand doesn’t have to connect and can wallow in her sadness and loss of her life…and she doesn’t have to move on.  She’s and outsider in an outsider community, but as the movie progresses she seems to come to terms with her new life and somewhat what she wants from it…but I still feel that her character will never truly be happy.

Visually, the movie tells an American west story.  The character is seeing the world and is seeing a world that not many people get to see.  It is the double-edged sword of Fern’s situation.  She gets to see the beauty of the night sky in South Dakota and walk the coast of the Pacific and camp in the desert…but it isn’t all romantic.

nomadland pacific ocean frances mcdormand fern

America…from sea to angry sea

Nomadland avoids some of the clichés of some of these movies.  McDormand’s character really isn’t in danger despite being a woman on the road alone.  She has a romantic interest in David Strathaim, but that isn’t a realistic outcome for the character.  She isn’t a hippie in love with nature…this is just her life now.  With the slice of life we see, it might be interesting to revisit Fern sometime in the future and see where the road takes her.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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