When Nomadland wins Best Picture next month, a bunch of people are going to watch it the following weekend and complain that nothing happens in its two-hour runtime. In a way, they’re right; you watch characters poop in buckets, look at the sky, eat in their vans, and gather together around the campfire. This surely doesn’t sound like the most flattering description of a movie, but to call Nomadland a traditional movie feels wrong to the point of being partly inaccurate. Nomadland achieves a level of authentic worldbuilding and emotional intimacy that most movies can only dream of, giving a whole new definition to the term slice-of-life as we follow the life of a nomad traveling across the United States. It is — without any ifs, ands, or buts — a great movie.
While the movie’s commitment to realism may seem intimidating, it’s hard to imagine any other way this story could have been told. The life of a nomad is depicted in the tiniest of details, with the film’s version of reality being so indistinguishable from actual reality it’s hard to separate the non-actors cast in the film — who are actual nomads — from the professional actors in any given scene. It’s a deeply empathetic movie as a result, showing the ups and downs of the nomad lifestyle in their respective glory, such as how liberating freedom and connection to nature meet at the intersection of an unstable gig economy. I love how these nomads aren’t caricatures or stand-ins for blue-collar America, but instead genuine people who have entered the nomad lifestyle (whether by choice or not) from a variety of circumstances.
Fern, the nomad we follow throughout the course of the movie, yearns to answer the question of what home truly is. Is home her van? Her plates? A house? Perhaps it’s none of the above. Her character arc is incredibly well-done, in no short part due to the ever-amazing Frances McDormand, who conveys more with her eyes when she laughs or smiles than most actors emote with their whole body in a thunderous monologue. Much like the rest of the movie, her performance is very subdued, yet that makes it all the more heartbreaking and relatable when we see her awkwardly wave to her coworkers at an Amazon warehouse. She truly deserves all the praise she has gotten for this role and then some.
While on the topic of warranted praise, I’ll wrap this up by discussing Chloé Zhao, otherwise known as The Real Deal or Hollywood’s Next Huge Director. Every directorial choice she makes in this movie — namely the realistic, bare-bones approach she takes to the story — is inspired and impactful. I haven’t even mentioned just how gorgeous this movie is, with Zhao opting for stunning wide shots of pink skies and barren lands that convey beauty and isolation in equal measure. Even her simpler use of visuals is impressive, conveying information to the audience without any dialogue in a 30 second scene. This is a director that knows exactly what she’s doing, and I couldn’t be happier to see her breaking representation boundaries while simply delivering powerful stories like Nomadland. We’re certainly all the luckier for it.
“Nomadland” is Ben Watches Things Approved