Nomadland, based on the book Nomadland: Surviving America and the 21st Century, follows Fern (Francis McDormand) who lost her job in 2011 when the gypsum plant in Nevada closed down. With little other options for work, Fern sells most of her worldly possessions and buys a camper van to travel around the country and seasonal work. Nomadland then follows her as she goes from job to job, meets other people in similar situations and tries to live her life as best she can.
Nomadland almost feels more like a documentary than a scripted drama, indeed had they not picked an actress as well known as Francis McDormand for the lead you could easily have convinced me that this was a documentary about a real woman named Fern. Every scene just feels real, aided by the number of non-actors who our main character interacts with. I’ll admit, I’m merely assuming here but the fact that everyone except Francis has a character name that matches their real name is a good hint that they’re basically just playing themselves.
The slow ponderous pace of Nomadland makes it very easy to just relax and go along with most of the goings-on, this isn’t some high emotional drama but just watching a person trying to make their life work in a situation that kind of requires them to live with no fixed address. There are occasional moments where the heartstrings are yanked on, such as a side character’s monologue about their illness and how they plan to deal with it or when someone points out that they just can’t afford to retire. There’s a lot of great little moments intercut with this interesting character piece.
Like most character pieces, Nomadland lives and dies on the basis of who is handling that main character and, in a shocking twist that no one saw coming, two time Oscar Winner Frances McDormand is an obscenely good actor who knows what the hell she’s doing and can create a relatable and real human being like it was nothing. She makes you want to stick around through the long slow quiet periods of the film in order to see how she manages to make this life work.
Those slow periods and that quiet pacing are where Nomadland kind of turns into, for lack of a better term, the exact movie that one thinks of when one hears that a film is nominated for a lot of Oscars. It’s a very slow thoughtful piece, reserved, with a lot of ambient music and a film that you watch knowing it’s good and being able to appreciate its overall quality but you also probably couldn’t quote it or really describe it that well a week after viewing.
This is where my problem comes in, there were moments when Nomadland was so slow that I caught myself zoning out and drifting, and I doubt I would be the only one. Again, the film is good, I very much liked it, I can’t wait to see Chloé Zhao become the second woman to win a Best Director Oscar because she absolutely deserves it for the performances she pulled out of everyone on set and the things she pulled off with that camera. It’s a great film… just one you need to be in a certain mood to enjoy to it’s fullest.
Nomadland is what one expects to be an Oscar darling, and rightfully so. It’s well-acted, wonderfully filmed with a great ambient score that swells in just the right moments. It’s a very very good film that I am happy to see made by such talented people… just forgive me if it doesn’t become a film I watch more than the one time I had to in order to write this review.