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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Nomadland' Review: Chloé Zhao's Road Drama Keeps Driving With Frances McDormand

Frances McDormand at a caravan park during golden hour
Searchlight Pictures

Ah, the sweet ol' hunting season for awards is once again here, only this time you're more likely to catch all the beautifully photographed films from your couch than on the big screen. That's a shame as far as most of them go, like with director-writer-editor Chloé Zhao's follow-up to 2018's equally wonderful 'The Rider' which didn't go quite as far in its quest for gold. The follow-up in question, Nomadland, however is going far and it's rather easy to see why since it also graciously focuses on an interesting individual in rural America.

Fern (Frances McDormand) is a fresh nomad, by her own words more ''houseless'' than ''homeless'', who lives in her van and travels around the west doing part-time jobs and living a minimalist lifestyle. Just like with the previous film in its respective graduating class, a piece that Zhao brings together is one that I simply don't have a comparison to this year and which consists of ravishing filmmaking aspects.

We might as well just talk through things as they appear just like Fern is living her life day by day - the fact that there is no proper comparison to Nomadland shows how Zhao is paving her own path with her style, use of real-life nomads mixed with seasoned actors especially elevates the impact quite a bit. Zhao isn't writing drama into Fern's life from outside sources, it's really small things doing that, like not having a spare tire for which she gets lectured by her friend Swankie (Swankie).

One slip-up, you could say, is the part when Fern goes to her sister's place as that breaks some of the magic that the road and nomad's lifestyle offers. It just stands out as hastily put together, slow and overly sentimental. Other than that, McDormand really brings it here. One thing that you can't help but think about is how McDormand's own age and experience really seems to expand the character who is a woman of few words, the actor behind really makes every little smirk, avoided eye contact and new friendship count.

Fern, roads and other nomads are the true heartbeat of Nomadland but lest we forget all technical stuff present. Joshua James Richards' photography doesn't miss a single chance to capture characters' small gestures or the natural light of pastoral lands, this would be an easy movie to ruin with handheld shakiness or really intense camera moves but he finds a sweet middle ground that never loses sight of the main character.

Going even further than that with a less-is-more attitude is composer Ludovico Einaudi whose stirring yet bare piano compositions aren't all over the film but when they are, they are superbly dipping in and out of the mix. The music is often appearing when a significant meeting between Fern and another character happens but even better than that, all of those meetings come into play later too. Fern's relationships with Swankie, nomadic lifestyle's leading man Bob (Bob Wells) and friend/romantic interest Dave (David Strathairn) all come together in the end in beautiful ways.

Smileys: Score, directing, cinematography, Frances McDormand

Frowneys: One weak sequence

Not a huge bucket person, I must confess, so I don't think we'll be seeing each other down the road, nomads.


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