Director: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie
Run Time: 109 mins
Nomadland is an original and unassuming exploration into the nomadic lifestyle that a proportion of Americans take where they cannot afford to live by conventional means in a bricks and mortar dwelling. In what is director Chloe Zhao’s third feature, Nomadland paints a desperate situation where hard-working Americans cannot afford to live in a normal society. We follow Frances McDormand’s widowed and unemployed Fern. She describes herself as ‘houseless’ and chooses to travel the US, partaking in various job opportunities, living from her van. These jobs range from a stint in Amazon to working in hot and sweaty kitchens to running a spa. We meet some real-life nomads that her character crosses paths with along the way, as well as a blossoming relationship with another nomad played by David Strathairn.
The performances are first-rate in the film, with Frances McDormand winning her third Best Actress Oscar for this role. McDormand is brilliant here but she could play this type of role in her sleep – it doesn’t rate with the quality of her other two wins in Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Of the other characters, it is Charlene Swankie (as Swankie!) who makes the biggest impression in the film’s best sequence where she recounts her life choices and philosophies. Technically, Nomadland is excellent as well with Joshua James Richard’s Terence Malick-esque cinematography beautifully capturing the vast open landscapes and offering a magical quality. Ludovico Einaudi’s piano-based score is sparsely used but packs a punch when it is featured.
With the Awards success Nomadland has received, not least a Best Picture Oscar win, it’s easy to go into the film with lofty expectations. Nomadland is not perfect, by any means. Save for Swankie’s affecting monologue, the film never really packs enough of an emotional wallop and there are sequences in the film that are languorously paced. Nomadland is a strong and original film that blends fact and fiction seamlessly with some amiable performances, even if it is somewhat overrated.