Opening titles of the film: “On January 31, 2011, due to a reduced demand for sheetrock, US Gypsum shut down it’s plant in Empire, Nevada, after 88 years. By July, the Empire zip code, 89405, was discontinued.”
And thus we begin our journey into this remarkable film which gives us an eye opening look into what happens to the people who have worked their entire lives at one job, where their livelihood and all they know, is suddenly taken from them. Where they are then forced to pack up and vacate due to the fact the company they gave their lives to, also owned their homes. From that opening we follow Fern (Frances McDormand), a hard-working 60-something widow who has lived her entire adult life with her husband who recently passed from cancer, in Empire, NV. before it became a ghost town. With no choice but to convert her van into a home on wheels to live in, we see Fern adopt a semi-nomadic lifestyle and initially she starts off working for Amazon before deciding to leave and start moving from place to place as she hustles from part-time job to part-time job while travelling through the campgrounds of America.
The various jobs that she works throughout the film and the people she interacts with all complement the film’s character development giving us an insight most of us will never be privy to. While most of the supporting characters are not in the film for too long, they are all thoroughly unique and interesting as well. Along the way, Fern meets and makes friends with others in her same situation, sort of a group of mostly elderly outcasts who’ve been equally affected by America’s crippling recession. While new friends like Swankie (Charlene Swankie), the sweet Linda (Linda May), and silver-haired David (David Strathairn), who clearly wants more than just a friendship with her, Fern seems to have committed to the nomad lifestyle. While all these people in the caravans that travel around are all feeling out what is in front of them, they are also all finding the independence of this unplanned situation both freeing and limiting. You truly empathize for them and realize that the nomad lifestyle is not only one rooted in hardship, such as financial difficulty, but can also be one of hope for some of them and puts forth the struggles each of them face within themselves and others.
This isn’t completely all about one woman’s journey, it’s truly a movie about life and although the film is slow paced, it is so well done and entertaining that time flies. It was also very clever of our uncomparable female director Chloe Zhao, to cast non-actors and genuine nomads in a lot of the roles as it really give it a genuine feel into nomadic life and I wish everyone of them could be named here as they were all wonderful. There is a lot of reasons to watch this film and probably one of the biggest is Francis McDormand’s one woman showcase that she gives us here, carrying almost the entire movie on her shoulders alone with ease and it’s a beauty of a performance to be sure. ‘Captivating’ is the closest one word description one comes to as watching this woman attempting to keep it all together while still grappling with the grief of her husband’s death and the loneliness of the open road makes you feel as though you’re taking the journey with her. You can’t ask for her to give much else than that.
Along with all of that, you have the stunning cinematography that shows us the beautiful nature and appealing beauty of the American West. Truly, Chloe Zhao is the Queen of the beautifully done, long winding road films – films that visually show us not only a terrifically done story, but that there really is still so much beauty in this world to be seen and had.
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“NOMADLAND” IS OUT IN THEATERS WHERE AVAILABLE (OVERSEAS) AND COMING TO THE U.S. IN FEBRUARY 2021