“Nomadland” Review

Story posted February 22, 2021 in Arts & Entertainment by Jimmy (Chien-Hsing) Lu.

At a time where it seems like everyone is running towards Hollywood, director Chloé Zhao is running away from it with her latest film, “Nomadland.” The film has been released on Hulu and selected theaters.

“Nomadland” stars two time Oscar winner, Frances McDormand, as Fern. The story follows Fern as she travels around the country in a van after losing everything during the Great Recession.

Her husband died, she lost her house, and her town’s zip code was entirely discontinued.

The film follows a unique format that Zhao has been doing since her first film, which is seamlessly blending fiction and nonfiction storytelling. “Nomadland” was based on a book that’s inspired by a true story, but the character of Fern is completely fictional.

This bold and unique type of filmmaking can create something that feels like a documentary and a drama at the same time, and it only adds more authenticity to the story.

For example, there are only two professional actors in this movie, including McDormand, and the rest of the cast are real nomads playing fictionalized versions of themselves; very similar to Zhao’s last feature, “The Rider.”

McDormand proves once again why she is one of the greatest actors working today. From the very first scene of the film, McDormand disappears into Fern.

She is kind yet reserved, she’s very compassionate but there’s also a wall she built to keep her from being too close to anyone.

It’s most likely from not wanting to suffer the loss she’s been through with her husband again, and McDormand displays Fern’s resilience and vulnerability in a soft but nuanced performance that is deeply moving.

This film is a slower burn that  might require a few more watches to grasp the themes and topics that it wanted to discuss. Some of the more compelling themes include: What is home? What is the American dream?

Fern learned that she belongs on her road, even though she didn’t have to, by the end of the film. She found a sense of freedom and she also learned to let go of her past and start living this new life with no rules.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s no loss and sacrifice in being a nomad, but losing is a part of life no matter how you live it.

“What’s remembered, lives. I may have spent too much of my life just remembering.” Fern said at the end of the film.

Zhao carefully captures the stories of these broken people, and the film not only celebrates them, it celebrates their resilience and their strength as well. Zhao is no stranger to pointing the camera at the ones who are forgotten by society, and she built a rich world and community through her lens and gorgeous cinematography.

Every shot in this film looks like a painting, from the badlands of South Dakota to the mountains of Arizona. These breathtaking views elevate the story under Zhao’s masterful direction; she also wrote and edited the film.

Overall, “Nomadland” is an achingly beautiful film that captures humanity in the most realistic way. The film also redefines the Western film genre in a refreshing way that not many directors have been able to do.

Zhao proves that she is one of the most fascinating directors right now, and “Nomadland” is another quiet masterpiece in her discography and one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 4/5

Jimmy (Chien-Hsing) Lu is a senior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email jfl5603@psu.edu.