The Stream: A boring character study meanders in search of a narrative.
The Big Screen: Gorgeous photography of American landscapes.
The Final Bill: Nomadland could have been a compelling documentary, but instead is a boring fictional character study.– Trip Fontaine
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writers: Jessica Bruder (based on the book by), Chloé Zhao (written for the screen by)
Stars: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May | See full cast & crew »
Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes
Platform: Hulu (released February 19, 2021)
Well, Streamers, have you heard about this movie called Nomadland? It recently won Best Picture (Drama) and Best Director at the Golden Globes, and now, it is presumably the frontrunner for the top prize at this year’s Academy Awards. I heard the buzz – good things – about Nomadland, and realizing that it is now available on Hulu, I decide to see what all the hype is about. By the title of this review, I have given away my opinion, but read below for more.
Nomadland’s synopsis goes something like this: After the devastation of a small Nevada town by the collapse of the local factory, a lady in her sixties, Fern (Frances McDormand) embarks on an unsettled life living as a modern-day nomad. She moves from place to place in her van, taking seasonal jobs and making her way alone. Nomadland is directed by Chloe Zhao from her script based on a non-fiction book of the same name about the nomad lifestyle. The film features real-life nomads telling fictionalized accounts of their lives as well as breathtaking photography of the American West. Fern is just as devastated as the town was from its economic collapse we learn. It is all set up to be a potentially deeply emotional film about grief, self-discovery and loneliness.
Generally, I don’t mind character studies, and this nomad lifestyle is intriguing. Why would one decide to live this way? What brought them to where they are? Those questions are explored in Fern’s story. Frances McDormand is a good actress and so she’s fully embodies this character. However, since the film is also populated with non-actors, who are real-life nomads, it is obvious that there is a naturalistic quality to their presence in the movie. I think it undercuts the fictional narrative. In fact, I’d rather have a documentary about those people and learn the how’s and why’s of how they came to be nomads. As it is, I was very bored following Fern’s story. I checked at least 5 times how long I had to go in this movie. I will say though that the cinematography and the brilliant colors and landscapes of the American West are beautiful, but that is not enough to sustain and almost 2 hour movie.
If you have 2 hours to devote to watching a woman travel across the country doing odd jobs and not much else, then Nomadland may be the movie for you. There is potentially an interesting and emotional story here, but as it is, this movie is not what it could be. I’ll wait for the documentary about nomads. For this, you only need on popped kernel of popcorn.
S2S: P.S. I couldn’t have said this any better. Give me the real people telling their real stories any day. Shoot make the documentary already.