Friday, February 19

Nomadland Review


Dir: Chloé Zhao

Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, and Linda May

1hr 24min


Quartzsite, Arizona, with a population of fewer than 4,000 residents, is a blink-and-you-missed-it border city with a string of fast-food restaurants and gas stations just off Interstate 1o. In the summer months, Quartzsite is an almost deserted desert city with empty roads and some boarded-up shops in the Arizona heat. However, in the winter months, Quartzsite turns into a haven for RV travelers, swap meets, and various festivals found in big tents on open lots. 


Writer/director Chloé Zhao utilizes this location for a portion of her melancholy and mesmerizing film Nomadland. Quartzsite is a road trip stop for Fern, played with nuance and raw honesty by Frances McDormand, who has modified a van into a living space on wheels. During the winter holidays, Fern, working in an Amazon warehouse, travels to Quartzsite as a retreat from the cold weather. She encounters a group of nomads just like her, a group of resilient and resourceful people living on the margins, some by choice and some because of necessity. 


Fern is still learning the lifestyle, and her venture to a place with like-minded people helps her understand how to maintain freedom while staying safe. She meets Dave (David Strathairn), and the two strike up a friendship, sharing experiences from their lives before they pulled the roots. Fern finds peace in the solitary moments of her life, keeping those who may want to help at arm's length. Even old friends, who knew Fern before her husband died and before she lost her job in the town she lived in, are only provided short visits and the most basic forms of information. Fern is either unable or unwilling to connect with those around her; the answers are rarely provided easily in Nomadland.


Chloé Zhao's minimalistic approach to the film composes some affecting emotional moments centering on isolation, both the beautiful moments someone can find in a place not consistently walked through and the heartbreaking moments when the world begs a person for some companionship. Nomadland embraces loneliness that echoes more pertinent amid a pandemic.


Except for Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, Nomadland is supported by nonprofessional actors. These real people aren't playing a role in a film but live the experience the story is trying to explore; this makesNomadland so compelling. They add authenticity, so much that the viewer sinks deeper into the meditative rhythm Zhao narrates with the meandering yet contemplative story structure. 


McDormand vanishes into the role. It's a performance that feels overly composed initially, as Fern is committing to the transient lifestyle. But as Fern grows more comfortable, so does McDormand in crafting the version. By the end of the film, it doesn't feel like an act or a routine at all. 


Chloé Zhao continues to grow as a remarkable storyteller, composing films that delve deeply into complicated characters' emotions and feelings without straightforward questions or easy answers. Instead, her films wander and roam to places that force analysis and engage a sense of understanding. Nomadland builds and unfolds beautifully, painting a portrait of independence and peace found in a solitary existence. 


Monte's Rating

4.25 out of 5.00

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