Directed by Chloé Zhao
Starring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn
If you like big storylines and character development in your films, perhaps Nomadland is not for you. But not to dismiss this film at all for that, it’s a breezy film that’s easy to get into because there’s very much no story, and perhaps not even much characterisation either. This is a pure slice-of-life film, so it eschews the nonsensical notion that there needs to be development in every film.
Fern (Frances McDormand) is a nomad who seems to be relatively new to this lifestyle – or perhaps has been doing it longer, as the film gives little indication to that and simply shows her as she packs up her van/home and travels along the American West. She encounters issues here and there, with her vehicle, with her hygiene, with her finances – though, like many of the nomads around her, she supports herself here and there with odd jobs (at Amazon putting packages together or, likely more fulfillingly, working at camp reserves).
She bumps in with fellow nomads, who come and go and come back in her life. One of the most memorable is an older lady, whose speech about how she comes to terms with her fatal illness because she’s lived such a large and extraordinary life is the film’s emotional centrepiece (whereas most of her other encounters are more casual).
Without a moment of inauthenticity in the staging of Fern’s interactions with fellow nomads, which is so neorealist, this film makes you wonder what’s set up and what’s real. There’s a strong feeling that there’s unscripted moments with real nomads, giving this a documentary feeling, though there’s complete smoothness to how this film mixes the real and the fictional.
McDormand’s does as great as the role demands, though she’s a little too reactionary to expose any great ranges of emotions, differentiating it from her powerhouse (and Oscar winning) performances in Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Maybe some viewers will be bothered by a total lack of real progression in this film, with not much in the “story” really coming to a complete. But one could suppose with this kind of life, there is no real completion. It’s simply life to be lived, with people coming and going as you travel down that road. Nomadland is not a heavy hitter (except for that one scene with the old lady), it’s a breezy film to take in, and a unique exposé of this culture of the world that receives little to no screen time, which this film has thoroughly given them.