Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Chloe Zhao
Writers: Chloe Zhao (screenplay) and Jessica Bruder (story)
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Bob Wells, Gay DeForest, Patricia Grier
Release: 18 March 2021 in theatres (Singapore)
Score: 4 out of 5 stars
TBH, I’ve never heard of Beijing-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao until she started sweeping Best Director awards for her work on Nomadland: New York Critics Circle Award 2020, Critics Choice Movie Award 2021 and Golden Globe Award 2021, just to name a few. While Zhao is embroiled in a swirl of controversies, her film is already on its way to success as an Oscars contender.
But controversies aside, let’s focus on Nomadland, a riveting film with plenty of messages to share.
Based on the 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, we observe the protagonist Fern (played by Frances McDormand) packing her van and setting off on the road to explore a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad.
To sustain her livelihood, Fern works through the seasons at numerous places such as an Amazon fulfilment center, a sugar beet harvesting plant, in the cafeteria of a tourist attraction and as a camp host in a National Park. While her newfound experience of living in the van proved challenging, Fern finds her community in the nomad gatherings she attends, including Linda May and Swankie (real-life nomads who play themselves) and a closer companionship with another fellow nomad Dave (David Strathairn).
Acclaimed actress McDormand seek out Zhao to direct this film as they travelled in vans across South Dakota, Nebraska and Northern Californian coast to capture the landscape elements.
And the results were breathtaking.
Two-time Film Independent Spirit Award nominee and cinematographer Joshua James Richards gave us previews of small towns, snowy to dusty landscapes and natural sceneries. It was the other side of America that we hardly see on screen.
Through Fern’s various relationships and personal tale, we are drawn to her despair, loneliness and struggle that makes her human. Her story also overlaps with others’ of finding their place in the modern world and a society that places financial stability and workforce above personal choices. You can’t help but feel acceptive and respectful of Fern’s lifestyle choices because our life’s journey is what differs from one another.
McDormand’s acting is powerful, raw and honest – the camera picks up on her every movement, like the uncomfortable twitch in her eyes or the quiet strength her character embodies. She’s now one of my most memorable characters to watch on screen this year.
A must-watch for those who carve their own path on the road, but remember they are not alone on that journey.