REVIEW: “NOMADLAND” (2020) Searchlight Pictures

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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.

Grade: A

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“NOMADLAND” IS OUT IN THEATERS WHERE AVAILABLE (OVERSEAS) AND COMING TO THE U.S. IN FEBRUARY 2021

REVIEW: “AMERICAN PASTORAL” (2016) Lionsgate

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Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Phillip Roth, we have Ewan McGregor doing double time in this one, a.k.a directing and starring in “AMERICAN PASTORAL”. Truthfully, I struggled a lot in my viewing of this one, as the acting often seemed forced, the script failed throughout, and there were a couple of performances that just left me blank. Overall the film was quite miscast and maybe this is what lead to me not really believing in a single character.
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Told in flashback mode from the viewpoint of Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn) at a high school reunion is the first thing right off the bat, that didn’t make a lot of sense and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the film doing the same. The film goes on to tell us the story of a high school jock who was blessed with everything ~ good looks, incredible skill at everything he did and a profitable women’s glove business that he would one day inherit and run for his father. Seymour Levov (Ewan McGregor) otherwise known as ‘Swede’ marries Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), the ex-Miss New Jersey. They have a daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning/Hannah Nordberg/Ocean James), and prosper in the suburbs of New Jersey. Merry grows up with a nasty stutter and a strange attachment to her father, one that set off weird alarm bells for me and I’m guessing most of the viewing audience as well, as it really comes off as just plain creepy. amerian-pastoral-4
From there, Merry grows into an angry rebellious young woman who rages against the United States and a deep hatred of President Lyndon Johnson, the Vietnam war and pretty much anything that ends up in her path. Her parents feel themselves starting to losing control of her and finally she leaves after it seems she bombed the local post office, killing a local resident and family friend. Merry goes under ground and is protected by a network of radicals who continue with their plots and killing more unknowingly innocent people along the way. Gradually the nightmare of not knowing where she is or what she is doing unhinges Dawn and she has a full-scale nervous breakdown. She is slowly able to let go of Merry but Swede can’t seem to do the same, as he finally finds her years later, but she is not even a close semblance of what she once was in one of the oddest scenes of the film to be sure.
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All this would make a great story if there was even the remotest of explanations as to how it happens. One day Merry is a sweet little girl helping her mom with the cows on the farm, the next minute she is spouting off stuttering radicalizations that we really don’t understand as again, not explained. The only thing I truly believed in the film was the points of history shown that actually happened with riots and protests etc.. Visually, it’s done quite well with bringing you a true feel of the 60’s at certain points, until again, the ending portion where logic and sense seemingly go out the window. None of the acting is standout or stellar. The only thing I thought of at the end, as I do love some of Philip Roth’s books tremendously, is maybe now I will read this one and maybe it will become a clearer story as the screenplay is not.

As 2016 is coming to a close and I am still waiting for those Oscar-worthy films to come forth, this was a disappointing exercise of film to say the least.

Grade: D+
@pegsatthemovies

Review Screening: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup

Nationwide Release: Friday, October 21, 2016