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Nomadland: Chloé Zhao and Frances McDormand Have Made Something Special

February 9, 2021

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Chloé Zhao (The Rider, the upcoming MCU film Eternals), Nomadland is an excellent adaptation of Jessica Bruder’s 2017 book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. The movie is jam-packed with beautiful vistas, fun moments, and authentic performances by real-life nomads.

Nomadland follows the journey of Fern (Frances McDormand), a recently unemployed nomad as she travels around the American west in her Ford Econoline van (nicknamed Vanguard). When we first meet her she’s taking her possessions out of a storage facility, and heading to an Amazon warehouse (which they actually shot at) to work a seasonal job. When that job ends she travels around the states working at restaurants, campsites and gem stores to make enough money to pay for campsites and van maintenance. It’s a solitary lifestyle, but Fern occasionally finds herself with fellow nomads who teach her about “life on the road,” and give her some much needed company.

Propelled by an immensely watchable performance by McDormand (who is always great), Nomadland relishes in the tiny aspects of nomad life. Whether it’s Fern customizing her van to create more storage space, or reacting to her treasured plates being accidently broken, the film is totally fine showcasing the more mundane aspects of her life. What also helps is that McDormand acts against actual nomads who deliver much-needed authenticity, and give the film a living-breathing soul. The reason Nomadland works so well is that it feels steeped in authenticity. You never really feel like it’s Hollywood-types going slumming, and there isn’t an ounce of falseness or preciousness.

The cinematography and production design by Joshua James Richards (God’s Own Country, The Rider) is inspired, as he blends handheld camera work with long dolly-track shots that showcase the rundown buildings and wide-open vistas of the west. It’s a film that should be watched on a gigantic screen, or in a dark room because the 2.39 : 1 aspect ratio captures the widescreen glory of the west, and isn’t afraid to linger on the rocky terrains or star-riddled sky.

If you’re looking for an authentic and occasionally beautiful film, I totally recommend you check out Nomadland. It’s going to be a force during the upcoming awards season, and it’s earned every right to be in the conversation. Zhao, McDormand, and Richards have created something special and authentic, and it’s neat seeing all the love bestowed upon it. It will be a lot of fun to watch what Zhao does next, and if Nomadland and The Rider are any indication, I’m guessing that Eternals will be a legit MCU film.

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