Movie #62 2021: Nomadland (2020)

I’m finding it extremely difficult to figure out how to begin this review. Quite simply, it’s a piece of purely phenomenal filmmaking.

Nomadland marks director Chloe Zhao’s third feature film, and it’s taken the world by storm. The film features Frances McDormand (who just so happens to be one of my favourite actresses in the world) as Fern, a woman in her sixties who loses everything in the Great Recession after the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada – where she lived and worked is ‘closed’ forever. Instead of simply moving elsewhere and taking on a new job, Fern chooses to live a nomadic lifestyle from her van, meeting many other people who have done the same for various reasons along the way. Based on a non-fiction book with the full title Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Zhao penned the screenplay to reflect the lives of America’s forgotten people, and many of the stories told within the film are told by the non-actors in this movie, most of which are true stories from their real lives.

I won’t sugar coat this. Nomadland is the most special film I’ve seen for a long time. I don’t recall the last time I felt grateful that a film existed, but that’s how I felt immediately after watching this, if not during.

Frances McDormand’s soul lives in her eyes all the way through this performance. Before this, she was already one of my favourite actresses, and now she has solidified her place in that category. Also, I now love Swankie and Linda with my whole heart. You’ll have to watch to understand, but I’m certain you’ll feel the same way.

What Chloé Zhao has done here is so beautiful. Every shot is so obviously meticulously thought out, and some of things she managed to capture on film are just wondrous. One simple sequence sees the sun rising over the mountains, which may not seem much, but imagine the planning that went into being there at that exact moment. It’s truly glorious. On top of that, she uses Einaudi’s cinematic piano as her score which completely won me over, and it fits the images on screen so perfectly that it only adds to the beauty of it all.

I spent most of my time watching extremely teary-eyed because of how pure and kind every person in this movie was. It’s a movie about loneliness, loss, the beauty in such small moments, and the simple nature of just existing. Then, at the end when one man told a story about his son, I couldn’t help but shed those tears. Just don’t talk to me. 

You didn’t think I’d review Nomadland without mentioning the criticism it’s received, did you?

There are a lot of people who are labelling this movie ‘homeless people porn’ being marketed by the upper classes. Homeless people porn? Using that phrase to describe this is really upsetting to me. This is their lives, for crying out loud. The majority of the people in this movie are simply telling their real life stories, and if they’re not offended by you labelling the film that tells their story ‘homeless people porn’, I’m offended for them. So maybe Zhao comes from a place of privilege, but this reads like a love poem to the nomads, not an Oscars ploy.

Look, I won’t put words in their mouths, but it’s hard to imagine a world in which these people are not proud that Nomadland exists and that more people are aware of their existence(s). In fact, the entire movie dedicates itself to making sure that average, home-dwelling people know that these people are not homeless, and in most cases, living as a nomad was their own choice. It truly seems as though they really love living on the road, and the film does everything it can to hammer that point home. So before you presume anything, check your privilege while you sit there speaking for the people in this movie whilst typing assumptive bullshit on your $2000 MacBook Pro. From where I’m sitting, this is not homeless people porn – it’s a love letter to a different way of life, and a device to educate the masses about these wonderful people.

I can breathe now. Thanks for listening.

Anyway, one can see why Nomadland won’t be for everyone: it’s a little slow (but with good reason) and relatively little happens when you think about it. But I enjoyed every second of it, and if you have any ounce of heart within you, you will too.

Nomadland is currently due to be released in the UK on April 9th 2021. With the recent announcements about the UK’s lockdown plan however, it’s likely that this date will change.

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