Authentic ‘Nomadland’ Is One of the Best Movies I’ve Ever Seen [VIDEO]
Hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since Chad Benefield and I closed the door on a fun, decade-long movie review show called The Screening Room, which ran on WOMI.
We would see two or three movies a week and then review them on the Friday morning broadcast. But by 2011, we got to the point where we just didn't have time to go to the theater with that kind of frequency. So we cancelled.
When I would tell folks about the show, they'd remark about how cool it was to get to see all those movies. Well, let me tell you, only about 40% of all the ones we saw were good. But when a movie's good--or GREAT, if you're lucky--there's nothing like it. I'm a big movie fan. But I can also be a harsh critic.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I've actually seen more "theatrical" releases, lately, than I have since the end of The Screening Room.
Recently, Hulu added Oscar magnet Nomadland to its line-up. I have now seen it three times.
Nomadland is a great film. It's one of the best I have ever seen and easily tops my list of all 2020 releases. It's actually been a while since I've seen a movie this good.
Based on Jessica Bruder's 2017 non-fiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century, the movie is set in 2011-2012, right after the Great Recession. A lot of folks at the time, having great difficulty finding steady work, sprung for RVs and hit the open road, finding odd jobs here and there along the way. If you're traveling--near or far--and you see big campers or motorhomes or even just vans in, say, Walmart parking lots, chances are, those are "nomads."
Nomadland focuses on Fern, played by the peerless Frances McDormand, a woman whose husband lost his job when the U.S. Gypsum mine in tiny Empire, Nevada closed down and put a lot of people out of work. Fern, herself a substitute teacher, decides to sell most of her belongings--she'd been keeping them in a large storage facility--and live out of her van while working at an Amazon fulfillment center.
But that job is about to be gone and instead of taking early retirement, which she cannot afford to do, she hits the road on the advice of her friend Linda May, a real-life nomad playing a fictionalized version of herself. Other nomads like Bob Wells and Swankie--who seems to have been elevated to icon status among the weary travelers--are in the film doing the same thing.
In fact, McDormand and former Oscar nominee David Strathairn--who plays a potential love interest who seems to be looking for a way OUT of the nomad lifestyle--are the only professional actors in the film. Even Fern's sister Dolly, who isn't a nomad, is played by one of McDormand's oldest friends, Melissa Smith. She, too, is not a professional actor.
Director Chloe Zhao will almost certainly win an Academy Award for directing this beautiful and extraordinary film about a large group of people who you'd think would be ready to throw up their hands and give in to life's many kicks in the teeth, but resist that potential urge--if that potential urge is even present.
She brings us into a world with which most of us really aren't familiar and explains it subtly through authentic dialogue and amazing location shooting and never seems to be "teaching" us anything. Just showing us.
And, by the way, Joshua James Richards expertly rewards viewers by bringing the magnificent Arizona desert and the South Dakota Badlands to us in a way that never makes them feel like "settings." Gorgeous work. I'd give HIM a golden statue as well.
While I've read some commentary about how this is the most depressing movie some people have ever seen, I strongly disagree. I feel that assessment is unfair to people like Linda May and all the others who are really ENJOYING this new lifestyle, even it WAS forced upon them.
And the work of Frances McDormand is not only flawless but comforting.
I plan to watch it a fourth time...and a fifth...and...well, you get the idea.
Nomadland is Rated R for a brief scene of full nudity and is currently available on Hulu.