Chloe Zhao excites with Nomadland

Nomadland explores the world of nomads and their identity within their community


Nomadland features real-life nomads to create an authentic story exploring their neo-Western lifestyle as they journey and coin themselves, “houseless.”

Ben Wilcox, Staff Writer

The current favorite to win Best Picture at the Oscars, Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland delivers a sensational yet unassuming portrayal of the wake of the Great Recession. Following Fern, the main protagonist played by Frances McDormand, the movie tracks her transition into a van-loving vagabond while the viewers ride shotgun. Adapted from Jessica Bruder’s titular non-fiction book, the film pays close attention to the thematic surface from its original source material, while also appreciating non-professional actors in supporting roles. 

This film tells the story of people who feel displaced or forgotten in the modern world and turn to living in vans, hopping from place to place, acting as modern-day nomads. Fern loses her job and husband in a very short period of time, feels lost and is unable to acquire a steady flow of work. As a result, she sells off most of her possessions and moves out of her house into a community of nomads. 

In a very heartfelt interaction, Fern tells a student she used to tutor that she’s houseless, not homeless. When the rest of the world seems to be caught up in the rat race, Fern finds herself in a community where she feels at home.

The film does a great job spotlighting a community that is relatively unrecognized and uses real people like Swankie, Bob Wells and others who live this way to accurately tell their story. This should come as no surprise considering the great inclusive efforts coming from McDormand, who introduced the world to “inclusion riders” within a star’s contract to promote diversity on and off the screen of a production.

Nomadland came to fruition because McDormand heard about the book the film is based upon and optioned the film because she was so interested in giving the story a wider audience. The interesting wrinkle is that Zhao, who used lesser-known and non-professional actors in The Writer — her 2017 hit — resulting in the Zhao-McDormand brainchild that is Nomadland.

It is rare to be able to see a proper slice-of life-movie that doesn’t drag on or feel too long.  Nomadland has a sharp 107-minute runtime that is refreshing, following the release of recent bloated blockbusters like Wonder Woman 1984. You get what you pay for with the film, and although it doesn’t subvert any expectations by any means, it’s a riveting movie more than worth the price of admission. It’s a quiet, withdrawn and sensitive piece of art, much like its main character.

Overall, it’s a warm and sentimental picture that offers a reprieve from the fast-paced and stressful world that so often surrounds us. There are many poignant and pensive moments throughout the film, and if there is any criticism to be made, it’s that there is a lot of runtime dedicated to just following Fern as she quietly stares off in the distance. However, scenes like these are in more than capable hands with an upstart director with a fresh vision and one of the greatest working actresses at the helm.

In a time where 2020 seemed like the most stressful year, Nomadland gives a calm look at the people who live at the edge of society, along with the pros and cons that the American nomad lifestyle can bring. As part of a simultaneous release in theaters and on Hulu, I would 100 percent recommend watching this movie.