Review: ‘Nomadland’

Posted 3/19/21

Frances McDormand gives another Oscar worthy performance in “Nomadland,” a striking and thoughtful film about people affected by Recession in America.

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Review: ‘Nomadland’

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Frances McDormand gives another Oscar worthy performance in “Nomadland,” a striking and thoughtful film about people affected by Recession in America.

On Jan. 31, 2011, due to a reduced demand for sheetrock, US Gypsum shut down its plant in Europe, Nevada, after 88 years. By July, the Empire zip code, 89405, was discontinued. Many families lost everything.

We first meet Fern (McDormand) as she selects some of her previously stored belongings into her panel truck and drives away, off to her next job. At an Amazon warehouse, she congregates with fellow nomads over lunch.

“Home is not a place where you live, it’s something you carry in you,” her friend Linda May tells the group of gypsy workers at lunch. Fern shows Linda May how she turned her van into a mobile home. Fern, a former teacher and tutor, explains to a former student she runs into at a department store that she is not homeless, she is “houseless.”

Part of a group of seasonal workers who travel from state to state in the American West in search of work, they cobble together employment opportunities. “I need work. I like work,” Fern tells someone at the employment agency.

She is warned by a gas station owner across the street where she is parked how low the temperature will drop at night. Fern struggles to bundle up to withstand the cold.

“The Titanic is sinking,” Fern hears from a speaker at a lecture and dinner hosted outside by nomads getting together who describe themselves as “workhorses.”

Around a campfire, individual stories are shared by how people wound up in vans, traveling the country. The stories range from people whose towns shut down, to Vietnam veterans, to people who learned from others’ experiences about living life before it’s too late.

The community offers training on how to live this peripatetic lifestyle, including how to change tires, self-defense, and how to patch peeling paint on the van. Fern is invited into a fancy RV with its own washer and dryer.

While the film celebrates the freedom and lack of responsibility this lifestyle offers some of its participants, it focuses primarily on the sadness, loneliness, isolation and uncertainly that most people feel.

The fiercely independent Fern muses about whether she should have let her terminally ill husband go sooner, consoled only by how well she took care of him during his last days and visits her sister and her family, rejecting an offer to live with them.

It is a beautiful story, based on the novel by Jessica Bruder and written, produced, and directed by Chloe Zhao, featuring the beautiful music of Ludovico Einaudi.

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