Nomadland

Nomadland ★★★★½

Nomadland is an incredibly interesting beast and I instantly completely understand any praise coming its way and likewise with the criticisms people have with it. Showing my cards straight away; despite recognizing and honestly agreeing with the many common criticisms I've been seeing, this still moved me pretty substantially so I cannot help but say I kinda loved this.

I have tried to be as vocal as I can in the past in my reviews and my opinions overall that I am an emotional person and most of the time if not always I try to let emotion lead the charge in my cinematic endeavours. Whether it be ratings for a movie, ranking other movies against each other and just my tastes in general, I try to let that make up a significant chunk of my opinions. So that may explain the fact I liked watching this, or that while I acknowledge the faults of Nomadland, that I'd still say I'm a big fan of this.


Like other's have stated, I felt this was at most times more a documentary, though not in the way Another Round is in which the subject matter and performances, etc. make for a superior product. Instead it was in a way where I was questioning why this just wasn't a documentary. I did enjoy Frances McDormand and of course she was good, but frequently I didn't see Fern but instead saw her - which is just super unfortunate.

My favourite aspect of the film by quite a margin were the many supporting characters in the film who Fern came in contact with, so the fact it didn't feel like that but instead Frances interviewing these real nomads is nothing but disheartening. That being said however, the character of Fern I do find particularly strong and her character arc really hit me very well. It's weird feeling so pleased and simultaneously confused about something like that honestly.

There are more similarities than not with Zhao's previous masterpiece however for some reason a lot of those things are more palatable in The Rider. Perhaps because Brady Jandreau is the lead non-actor surrounded by accompanying non-actors and to me, Nomadland is so clearly non-actors with Frances and David Strathairn sprinkled on top.


I'm not sure why, if there was any reasoning at all (as what I've read it just seems like McDormand approached Zhao about making the film and that was that) why it's made up of all these real people playing fictionalized versions of themselves except Frances and Strathairn. Based off of the performances Zhao gets in both films, I 100% believe she could've achieved the exact same without Frances, who I don't really think brings anything spectacular to the film. Or anything like Ben Affleck in The Way Back where there is a level of metatextuality that enriches the film - though I'm more than happy to be corrected if Frances has lived as a nomad!

The illusion for me is shattered when I remember I'm watching Frances act (much moreso than Strathairn who blends in very well, as he usually does) and will eventually leave this life on production and go back to her beautiful home and very successful life, all the while these nomads like Bob and Swankie continue to be impoverished and continue to feel the effects of the GFC over a decade ago. I'm not sure, the whole thing almost definitely deserves more credit than I'm giving it, but I was just trying to illustrate my overall confusion with this stuff.


Like I quickly touched on, Nomadland's core are all those real life nomads and the way their lives are shared with us really is very beautiful. Both times I was struck emotionally were from those supporting characters and that doesn't even cut it. The first conversation with Fern's sister Holly was so strange for me, one second I was immersed in their dialogue and the next I had tears streaming down my face. And that's slightly how I feel about the whole thing, it really takes you by surprise. And a lot of that has to do with Zhao's direction where scenes may only be a minute long but have notable weight.

The second time I could feel it coming and I knew it was going to happen but saying I was a mess is an understatement. The themes of this film are so powerful that despite it containing a few things I haven't been a huge fan of historically, for example a lot of the Malick type filmmaking where it's just people doing nothing in nature. Despite those things, when we hit those points reminding us the severity and heartbreaking consequences of the financial crisis and the relating threads of death, grief, homelessness and living among the land, I was so moved.

So when Fern and Bob are having this conversation and he talks about this spirituality that has been discussed throughout with the film prior and the passing of his son and how it all influences the way he lives his life, I felt like a little ball of emotion. That is easily my favourite scene of the film and it's not even close at all. There was emotion found before it and a lot after it too with Fern's arc relating to her own journey and being a nomad, but it peaked there with Bob for me personally.

I opened my review emphasizing the way I treat cinematic sincerity and heart and the ability to draw that emotion for me can't not go a long way. Like it's so against every fibre of my being to not be swept up by that sorta stuff and I've said it so many times before - I value emotional sincerity over almost anything else in cinema. In almost all cases you will never hear me saying something being cheesy or heartfelt is a bad thing. I would without a doubt rather watch something that has care and love behind it than something cynical and nihilistic.

It's a big reason why I love Spielberg so much - he weaponizes that sincerity while keeping that card right on his sleeve for the world to see. The different themes Nomadland tackles and explores are some I'm generally a fan of, and seeing them executed here left me feeling incredibly satisfied. So with all that being said, I really value how much this made me feel and like other films I love for their earnestness, it's why I can look beyond and focus on purely the stuff that amassed such a strong reaction from me and it's why I've got it at a 4.5.


I definitely would have more to say but I just want to publish this review and get my thoughts out there so I stop worrying about trying to fit them all in and simply focus on reflecting. I still have many thoughts about this both positive and negative but I'm definitely revisiting this so no big deal. If nothing else and as usual (because I'm the most predictable person on the planet), I'm excited to let this sit for a while and really sink in as I know it will.

It's done quite well at awards shows thus far, obviously most notably taking Best Director and Best Picture at the globes the other week and I think it's absolutely a deserving winner. I also wanted to say quickly that this makes for a really solid double feature with The Big Short and for me I am confident saying it aided my experience understanding and connecting with the nomads! Anyways, I'm looking forward to rewatching (in cinemas hopefully where it looked beautiful by the way) this and also seeing the rest of the award season play out.

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