Nomadland, directed, produced, and written by Chloe Zhao, starring Academy® Award winner, Frances McDormand, is a snapshot of life in post-recession America. Based on the book by Jessica Bruder, it follows a year in the life of Fern (McDormand), a middle-aged woman who lives out of her dilapidated van. Fern makes her way across the American West, working odd, seasonal jobs to stay somewhat afloat. Fern is a nomad, a subculture that’s arisen in recent years based around a rejection of debt-based consumer culture that has enveloped nearly every aspect of American life. The nomads are a group of primarily older Americans who have chosen to live out of their cars. The nomadic lifestyle offers a low-cost means of living that appeals to a segment of the population that has struggled to find a permanent place in the post-recession economy. Fern previously made a life with her husband in a small mining town in Nevada. The mines closed in 2011; her husband passed away shortly thereafter. Fern struggles to find peace and freedom on the roads, seeking meaning in the places and the people she meets.
The film is pensive overall. McDormand gives an exquisite performance as she paints a picture of a complicated, but easily sympathetic, character. The same is true of many of the supporting cast. Nomadland is ultimately a slice-of-life film about a group of people just making the best of the hand they were dealt. The wonderful cinematography highlighting the rolling plains, mighty canyons, and vast vistas of Nevada, Arizona, South Dakota (Badlands and the famous Wall Drug), and northern California is simplistic, yet calming. The scenery is often dreary, but at the same time majestic. While the film is slow to build and meandering at first, it develops into a quieter, more contemplative film. The music arrangement, comprised of mostly piano, with minimal and sporadic symphonic accompaniment deftly compliments the introspective nature of Nomadland.
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