Frances McDormand takes to the road in director Chloé Zhao's evocative adaptation of Jessica Bruder's book

Film Review by Rory Doherty | 13 Apr 2021
  • Nomadland
Film title: Nomadland
Director: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells, Derek Endres, Melissa Smith
Release date: 30 Apr
Certificate: 12A

After Fern (McDormand) loses everything in the 2008 recession, she sets out in a van filled with all her earthly possessions for a new life of cross-country travelling. Nomadland builds on Chloé Zhao’s previous films with a naturalistic style that delicately captures Fern’s journey and friendships without forsaking any of the blistering emotion the characters all try to conceal. It’s a visually gorgeous and deeply moving portrayal of humanity under tragic circumstances.

Zhao has cemented herself as a brilliant director of non-professional actors. By hearing directly from real people affected by the issues, the film's stories of being left behind by the system make for a compelling watch. It’s a real credit to Zhao’s talents how seamlessly the professional actors blend into the ensemble. McDormand's Fern feels so alive, and as we watch her chirpily deny offers of companionship, we feel her aversion to getting close to others and see her deepest fears of losing what little she has left.

But a pointed focus on the smallest of moments sometimes robs Nomadland from making larger points about the situation Fern and many others are forced into. Our view into the Amazon warehouse Fern temporarily works in shows a much less intense and exploitative environment than recorded in Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book on which the film is based, but Zhao is more interested in the interiority of America’s nomadic populace rather than the broader political context they operate within. Nomadland powerfully dramatizes the very human need to find connections in the face of desolation.

Streams from 30 Apr on Disney+; certificate 12A