From the director of The Rider comes Nomadland. This drama film adapted and directed by Chloé Zhao and based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder. Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad.
In March 2018, Frances McDormand and Zhao met a day before the 33rd Independent Spirit Awards, and instantly wanted to do a film together. By Fall, Frances McDormand, David Strathairn and Peter Spears, as well as real-life nomads Linda May, Charlene Swankie, and Bob Wells, were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced and lasted over four months, with Zhao splitting time between set and pre-production for Eternals (2021). Filming took place in seven states during four months, during which McDormand actually performed several of the jobs done by people who do nomadic work and inspired the book, such as harvesting beets and packaging Amazon orders with the CamperForce program. McDormand, Zhao, and other crew members lived out of vans over the course of production. McDormand blended into the nomadic community so well that one of the local Targets offered her an application for a job. Frances' experience of living in a van took four to five months, covering seven states. She adopted a lifestyle of being constantly on the move to make the movie seem more authentic, rather than just acting the scenes. The film's initial release date before it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The film stars McDormand, Strathairn and Spears. McDormand, no matter the closeness to her own cinematic equivalent, brings this yearning, good-hearted soul to life with a virtuosic application of body, mind, and heart.
Zhao's Nomadland serves as a testament for why making the extra effort to tell underrepresented stories matters. Throughout all of the film, Zhao maintains her tone and, to a lesser extent, her pace, seeing her work more as a poem than as a narrative picture. The craft evidenced by Zhao is great when she improvises and adapts to the actors and situation, but less so when she has complete control. The piece works because Zhao has the open eyes and big heart of a humanitarian, and she refuses to ignore inspiration in any form when it strikes her squarely between the eyes. The sort of deep, meaningful film that reminds us why we are so lucky the independent film industry exists in the first place. It reminds us of the dignifying power of work and purpose in human existence, even as it ponders the meaning of life when these things are taken away. A delicate and tremulous thing, at once confident and gentle, lyrically composed yet as tragic as the American Dream ideal it so carefully deconstructs. Zhao's lyricism, brought to shimmering life by cinematographer Joshua James Richards, turns what could have easily been a leaden docudrama into a work of astonishing beauty.
Simon says Nomadland receives:
Also, see my review for The Rider.