NOMADLAND – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Bob Wells, who plays himself in this film, was why I got interested in this story. He’s the person who I consider the grandfather of van living. Bob ran the original CheapRvLiving.com blog. He also has lots of how-to videos on YouTube. In one of those videos, he mentioned Jessica Bruder’s novel Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. A book I read and loved. It’s about the writer’s journey over three years of living with the van dwellers and the community that evolved after the 2008 financial crash. In the book, you meet all kinds of people who found themselves not homeless through some mostly sad circumstances but houseless. They survive going from seasonal outdoor jobs to hellish Amazon warehouse seasonal jobs. However, they mostly thrive living in RVs of many sizes and vans they fix up themselves. The book is centered around a wonderful woman, Jessica befriended, named Linda May. She is also playing herself in the movie.
Being such a fan of the book, I was excited to hear that new director Chloe Zhao, who impressed everyone with her 2017 film The Rider, was directing the film version of this best-selling novel. She was using the same talented cinematographer that made The Rider with her, Joshua James Richards. His ability to create visuals that are intimate and stirring would do this quiet and gritty story justice. Also, Chloe’s directorial gift of coaxing strong performances from non-actors would serve her well on this project. As she chose to shoot on location with real Nomads and van dwellers working with the trained actors. Add to the fact that Frances McDormand decided to play the lead part of Fern, based on Linda May, and you had the potential for magic on the screen. This is McDormand’s first feature film acting choice since she won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Needless to say, I was stoked to see this film version of the book. Because of Covid-19, this film that was supposed to be released late last year is finally available for audiences to enjoy.
Nomadland the film tells the story of Fern. Following her company town’s economic collapse in rural Nevada, Fern packs her van and sets off on the road. Exploring a life outside what we call conventional society. She’s a modern-day nomad. She learns how to adapt from her mentors and comrades on the road, Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells. She also finds a romance of sorts in Dave (David Strathairn). Life did not turn out how Fern thought it would. Her American dream was shattered through forces beyond her control. Now, she learns a new way to not just survive but to live.
Nomadland has won awards at all the festivals it played at. It was voted Best Picture of The Year from the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association that I belong to. I am sure it will be in the competition for Best Film, Cinematography, Acting and Directing at this year’s Academy Awards show. Simply put, it is an outstanding film that shines a light on a whole segment of society that has found a life outside of the tattered American Dream.
I give Nomadland 5-stars. It is a beautiful contemplation of the new realities in the US.
Director: Chloé Zhao
Written by: Chloé Zhao (Screen Play), Jessica Bruder (novel)
Running Time: 1hr 48min
Release: Select local theaters and Netflix February 20th
Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.