MOVIE REVIEW: “Nomadland” Is The Perfect Antidote to 2020 ★★★★☆

GOOD Morning Wilton‘s movie reviewer, Sebastian Hunt, is a senior at Wilton High School who loves film and television and hopes to become a filmmaker himself one day. He’s already gotten a jump start on that, producing his own screenplays and planning on submitting his work to film festivals. You can learn more about Sebastian on GMW‘s “Our Team” page. 

Nomadland is a film about the death of the American Dream, but the enduring decency of the American people. While Chloé Zhao’s breakout feature deals with bleak material — grief, financial ruin, vagrancy, etc. — it is ultimately an uplifting testament to human goodness and perseverance.

Written and directed by Zhao, Nomadland follows a widowed, van-dwelling vagabond named Fern (Frances McDormand), forced into her lifestyle by the Great Recession. Traveling along the Western United States, Fern encounters a number of extraordinary sights and individuals that make her conditions more bearable.

Zhao’s screenplay gravitates towards character-driven naturalism as opposed to a coherent plot or structure; Nomadland is a slice-of-life story. There aren’t any sweeping twists, nor scenes that allude to complex philosophical overtones. The drama is fixed around McDormand’s Fern — her fleeting, seemingly trivial experiences comprise Nomadland’s thematic and narrative underbelly.

Likewise, Nomadland’s direction is deceptively simplistic. Zhao employs shots that prioritize human faces instead of elaborate backgrounds (though there’s no shortage of gorgeous natural scenery within Nomadland), enabling the viewer to develop a strong connection to the characters.

The true selling point of Nomadland, however, is McDormand’s performance. Though other talented actors — namely David Strathairn, Patricia Grier and Bob Wells — serve as strong onscreen presences, McDormand is easily Nomandland’s highlight. Fern is, without exaggeration, one of the two or three most realized characters McDormand has ever brought to life. She is an easy shoo-in for this year’s Academy Awards, but even more, this is a defining role for one of Hollywood’s most gifted performers.

Even when it wins Best Picture (or something along those lines), I can understand why one might possess apprehensions about viewing Nomadland. At surface-level, it would appear to be a well-acted yet sobering visualization of hardships that too many have had to endure, particularly over the past year. Yet a closer look reveals its deeply humanist core. It is a film about people; more specifically people that are good and want to help one another. Isn’t that the sort of film we all need right now?

“Nomadland” is available to stream on Hulu

Ratings Key:
★ – Bad (e.g., Transformers, Pixels, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Justice League)
★★ – Mediocre (e.g., Incredibles 2, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Super 8, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)
★★★ – Good (e.g., Pretty in Pink, Batman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)
★★★★ – Great (e.g., Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Social Network)
★★★★★ – Amazing (e.g., Dr. Strangelove, The Terminator, Do the Right Thing, Toy Story, Parasite)

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