“Nomadland” Review: A Story About Finding Home


Searchlight Pictures

Frances McDormand stars as Fern in “Nomadland,” directed by Chloè Zhao.

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Nomadland is a story that follows a woman, Fern, who is reeling from the loss of her husband and the turmoil of the Great Recession. Fern, played by Frances McDormand, travels across the midwest driving her van from job to job, leading Fern to become a “nomad.” The movie is directed by Cholé Zhao, who has drawn recent prominence with the announcement that she will take on Marvel’s Eternals, which is slated to be released later this year. 

The most interesting aspect of this movie is that the majority of “actors” are real people. The story is fictitious, but many people that Fern meets on her journey are real nomads. This creates the feeling of a documentary film and possibly one of the truest versions of historical fiction. I try to stay away from watching trailers, especially for indie movies like Nomadland, because I find it more enjoyable to go into these movies with as little information as possible. 

The “real” elements of the movie are captured expertly, specifically the storyline, which emotionally draws in the viewer. Pairing a talented director such as Zhao with a talented actor such as McDormand is a recipe for excellent storytelling, creating a feeling of reality. Going through the journey of an individual with no end destination is a hard task for a movie to pull off, yet Nomadland does this perfectly.

For me, that was the most intriguing aspect of the movie. The creators of Nomadland understand that the film’s audience is primarily composed of those who have not experienced anything similar to what these people are going through in the Midwest. With that understanding, the viewer gains a broader understanding of America and the impact of the 2009 housing crisis on its citizens.

Of course, in 2021 everything that is consumed media-wise has the backdrop of COVID-19. Although the movie makes no mention of the subject (it wrapped filming before the pandemic), watching an older woman struggle through life makes it difficult not to compare the subject to current circumstances. Over the past year, the challenges that isolation posed for older people certainly parallels Fern’s struggles as she spends nights in her van alone in the freezing cold. Although this is not a message that the movie had any intention of conveying, viewers can connect the emotional hardship portrayed in the film to that experienced by many families during this year of the pandemic.

I recommend this film to those who want to see one of the best films from the past year, those who want to be caught up for the Oscars, and the “indie lover.”The film is truly an “indie’s indie,” where the gritty, low-budget, small scale style comes through. Of course, this is ironic considering that director Cholé Zhao’s next film will be for the biggest movie company of all time, Marvel. 

 Nomadland took home best drama at the 2021 Golden Globes and 2021 Critics Choice Awards. Also joining the winning streak was director Cholé Zhao, who won best director at both awards shows as well. This has drawn headlines as the Oscars approach since Zhao has an opportunity to become only the second-ever female director to win the Best Director Oscar. In the 93 years of the Oscars, only five women have been nominated for the award. This year the number will likely expand; in addition to Zhao, Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Women and Regina King for One Night in Miami are both favorites to receive a nomination. Nomadland will certainly be a favorite to capture both best picture and best director. I recommend watching it for that reason, as well as for the opportunity to watch one of the world’s best storytellers capture a dramatic, often unknown story. 

You can watch Nomadland now on Hulu, or in select theatres.

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