Thursday 28 January 2021

Nomadland (Movie Review)

As we get closer to this year's Golden Globes and Oscars, one film that keeps coming up in discussions about potential hopefuls is Nomadland. The movie made a splash last year when it received top honors at both the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, besting other critical darlings like One Night in Miami. It would go on to appear on several year-end lists of best films of 2020, even managing to come out on top on quite a few of them.

So all through the praise and accolades, I'd patiently waited for an opportunity to see Nomadland, wondering if it could ever live up to my incredibly high expectations. I finally got to do so this past weekend, which raises the question of why I am only just putting out this review now. There's a very strong reason for that, which I'll be addressing in the latter portion of this review, along with my overall thoughts about the movie.

Written and directed by Chloé Zhao, the movie stars Frances McDormand as Fern, a woman that adopts a nomad lifestyle by selling all her belongings and using the money to buy an RV, after she loses both her job and husband. She gets a temporary job at an Amazon fulfillment center, where she meets and befriends Linda, and from whom she learns about a gathering of nomads that meet in the Arizona desert every winter. 

Much of the film is spent following Fern around the empty highways of the American West, as she slowly contemplates her life and the choices that led to where she is. But on those highways is where she'd encounter several characters that would help shape her journey of acceptance and self-discovery.

Nomadland is both a character study and a window into the lives of those that uproot themselves from already established lives with the singular hope of starting out fresh. Frances McDormand, who has given quite a number of stellar performances over the years, gives one of her best ones till date. But it is the characters she encounters in the movie, and how she interacts with them, that truly stands out in my opinion. 

The fact that most of these characters were played by real-life nomads lends the movie a certain level of authenticity seldom seen in such films. We've had similar techniques used in movies like City of God and Up in the Air, where much of the cast is made up of real-life people, and the technique pays off in spades here. The latter in particular has a stronger thematic connection with this one, since both films are set in the aftermath of the American recession.

Like I said at the start of the review, I've been sitting on this review for Nomadland for a couple of days now. This is news because I typically try to review movies right after seeing them, but something about Nomadland was different. The film almost demands that you spend some time ruminating on its story, themes and larger-than-life characters, which is something I've found myself doing this last couple of days. The movie definitely sticks with you well past the credits.

There are other things to love about Nomadland, from its beautiful cinematography to Chloé Zhao's capable hands as a director. But I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that the movie might not be for everyone. It doesn't offer the kind of instant gratification that most films provide these days, with its leisurely-paced narrative and strong character focus. But if you're willing to accept that going in, then what you'll discover is something wholly captivating.


  1. I don't mind a character study. I know the lead is excellent and desert settings sound perfect.

    1. Great. I like character studies too, and this one is one of the better ones I've seen recently.