Nomadland (2020)

Nomadland (2020) Cover

Nomadland is the new feature from director Chloé Zhao, the filmmaker behind indie darling The Rider and Marvel's upcoming The Eternals, and is an adaptation of the 2017 non-fiction novel of the same name by Jessica Bruder. Zhao's newest film comes off a lucratively successful festival circuit, during which it garnered starry acclaim and decoration at the likes of TIFF and Venice Film Festival (where it earned the prestigious Golden Lion), and has gone on to become one of the foremost frontrunners for the impending 2021 Academy Awards. 

Nomadland may now be in pursuit of brassy and clamorous Oscar glory, but the film itself resonates with a quietly stirring power and poetry, as Zhao blends her own form of directorial restraint with a subtle yet fittingly moving performance from lead Frances McDormand. Nomadland certainly acts as a bona fide character study for its wonderfully vagrant lead character, but also extends as an uncommonly wistful, contemplative, and lyrical visual portrait of the United States, when seen through the elegant lens of the beauty that lies surrounding its wayward roads and highways. While the film channels an impressionistic view of the American landscape, emblematic of some forgotten bluegrass tune or those Americana cornerstones you might find in a Norman Rockwell painting, it also groundedly pays tribute to the metaphorical sacrifice and alienation that have so long defined American culture and tradition. In the case of Nomadland, these traditions are reflected not just through Fern's struggles to confront her past and present, but also through the contemporary destruction that urbanization and greedy free enterprise wreck upon communities, livelihoods, and whole generations of people. For some viewers, Fern and her companions' nomadic lifestyle will at first glance seem fringe or unfathomable, but director Chloé Zhao cleverly uses this conceit to speak to a more universal truth about memory and regret that will ring true even beyond the shores of the States. Nomadland asks its viewers to reflect upon the delicate balladry of existence and mortality when seen through the eyes of a drifter and through the veins of the distinctly western American frontier. Through Nomadland, Chloé Zhao explores lofty, thought-provoking themes through the seemingly smallest of human interactions set against the unexpectedly magnanimous power of small towns and vans. 


Lensed by Joshua James Richards, the film captures nature and the roads that run through it with reverential soulfulness, creating enrapturing environments that brim with startling color and landscape. Acclaim and awards feel almost immediately in order for Richards, who returns to work with Zhao in what can only be described as one of the most visually engrossing films of the year. Zhao edits the film herself with pristine sharpness, punctuating key moments with spiraling and sweeping classical tracks from Ludovico Einaudi, thereby accentuating the realism of the scenes with a distinctly romanticized and emotional quality. At the center of the film is Frances McDormand herself, a performer who hardly requires an introduction, and provides a phenomenally understated turn as the vulnerable yet willful Fern, a woman haunted by her own memory and confronted by the daily challenges of her present and future. A supporting ensemble includes the delightful David Strathairn and a host of non-actors, led often by the scene-stealing Linda May.

While Zhao's film is intrinsically meditative and poetic, its potency and power also lie in its ability to craft a slice-of-life drama and character study that feels genuine and grounded. The film's emotional and contemplative power comes most often not through embellished artful flourishes, but flows through its expertly written daily interactions that reveal insightful and often heartbreaking truths regarding characters and their circumstances. At its heart, Nomadland utilizes its human stories to extrapolate broader themes about humanity and existence, and the film's depiction of a nomadic lifestyle speaks not just to the parallels of American life, but to life in general. This is a universal and empathetic story, told with a distinctly exquisite visual and narrative approach that marks the sign of a director with keen observance - Nomadland satisfies the long-standing appetite for good cinema this year, and acts as one of the best films of the year. Don't miss it.

Final Verdict:Nomadland is a phenomenally lyrical and contemplative character study and portrait of America that expertly speaks to broader themes through Chloé Zhao's singularly excellent craftsmanship.