Movie Review: Nomadland

By Ben Lindner, Staff Writer
[Searchlight; 2020]
Rating: 8/10

Sometimes, a movie feels like it’s yelling at you. It’s screaming “pay attention to me” because that’s all it can really do. Nomadland is the opposite. It’s never in your face, and instead, it lets itself pour over you and slowly be let in. Nomadland knows exactly what it needs to be and executes it well.

The film focuses on Fern, played by Frances McDormand, who travels the country in the van she lives in after her life is uprooted, meeting all sorts of people along the way.

The film’s biggest strength is probably the direction and cinematography. Director Chloé Zhao films in a simple yet effective way that puts the viewer in the environment. Every frame is composed to be beautiful but never stretches to look unnatural. All the beauty found in Nomadland could easily be found in real life. 

Read more: Movie Review: The Witches

This movie is not too focused on plot, rather showing a series of encounters with Fern and the people she meets on her journey. Many of the actors are basically playing themselves, which adds a real sense of authenticity to their roles. The subjects of the film are portrayed with such empathy and love that it is hard not to fall in love with them. They are never looked down upon for their way of life, helping to build a tone of respect and appreciation for life that is reflected in every part of the movie.

It would have been very easy for this movie to overdo its portrayal of van dwelling. The hardships of the lifestyle are shown and feel genuine, but it never resorts to being unnecessarily gratuitous. The tone is instead very positive and encouraging while being realistic. It posits that people are good and makes you believe it. It makes you think about your life and its interconnectedness with others but does so in a fair, kind way.

The leading performance by McDormand is excellent. It’s not a flashy performance, as is fitting of the tone of the movie, but it’s solid and emotional in a way that feels authentic. McDormand is supported by David Strathairn and a lovely blink-and-you-miss-it performance by Swankie, who really ends up being the emotional through-line of the whole movie in spite of her minimal presence. All of the performances in the movie feel real and are heartwarming from start to finish.

Nomadland is not a flashy movie. The cinematography portrays real landscapes. The actors are made to look like real people. It’s not showy, but it is a clear deliberate choice to create a grounded film that never feels like it needs you to pay attention to it but makes you want to nonetheless. 

Watch the trailer here:

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