Newcomer Chloé Zhao has made an impression with her third feature film, Nomadland. Recently snagging some Golden Globe wins, including Best Director and Best Picture, Zhao is the first woman of color and the second woman who has achieved a best director win. Inspired by the style of cinéma-vérité, the film immerses us into the specific world of nomads.
Nomadland opens with information on the US Gypsum plant located in Empire, Nevada. The plant shut down in January of 2011, a casualty of the Great Recession. By July of that year, many Americans lost jobs and homes and an entire zip code was discontinued. We are next introduced to Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who worked at the plant with her husband who has passed away. She embarks across America in a recently purchased van in search of work.
An interesting fact about this film is that the nomads Fern encounters are real-life nomads. People with the names of Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells get the opportunity to tell their stories. Some of their stories are achingly beautiful, while others are devastatingly heartbreaking.
McDormand’s performance is remarkable here. She is excellent with her craft and relies on her face to do most of the heavy lifting. She expresses heartache so convincingly and has gifted us one of the most fully realized screen characters ever seen. Her wrinkled face mimics the endless roads and highways she travels on. Each line has a story, some she willingly shares and others too painful to speak of.
Nomadland is a type of film that may not be for everyone, but it is a movie everyone should watch. It is not preachy, it does not pick a side in an argument, but objectively shows the daily ups and downs of nomads. It allows us to take stock of the things we have around us and question what their worth really is. While watching, one might ask if Fern ever feels lonely. The truth is she probably gets lonely sometimes, but the memories of her husband are what keep her going. She is fighting to get to the day when she can finally rest and they embrace again.