Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland” is truly a work of art, a beautiful movie that restores your faith in film and life, especially after the last few months. Frances McDormand will get an Oscar nomination, accolades, she may win, who knows? It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t care, frankly. She’s won already for two movies and should have won for others. But this performance is transcendent. She’s stripped away that caustic, defensive character she usually plays and found some kind of inner peace that glows like the desert at sunset Zhao fills the screen with in “Nomadland.”
Did I like it? I was clapping at home just now in front of my computer watching the press link from the Toronto Film Festival. If they’d shown this in the Princess of Wales theater, there would have been a 10 minute standing ovation and Frances would have left– she’s like that. A lot of the applause would have been first for David Straithairn, who gives his usual lovely performance and as a fellow traveler McDormand’s Fern meets on the road.
But the real cheering should be for the real nomads, the real people featured in the film by Zhao. They’re not “homeless,” as Fern says, they’re “houseless.” They live in vans and migrate around the west, from Nevada to South Dakota to Arizona, working at Amazon the way migrants use to pick grapes, never staying anywhere long even though they could if they wanted. Two women and one man are standouts: Linda May, Bob Wells, and “Swankie,” all three of whom give the film an expected poignancy as amateur actors sort of but not actually playing themselves.
There’s a gorgeous score by Ludovico Einaudi that I hope was written for the movie so it can be nominated as well.
Jessica Bruder wrote the book upon which the movie is based. According to the imdb she’s a journalist who writes about subcultures. “For her book Nomadland, she spent months living in a camper van, documenting itinerant Americans who gave up traditional housing and hit the road full time, enabling them to travel from job to job and carve out a place for themselves in a precarious economy. The project spanned three years and more than 15,000 miles of driving – from coast to coast and from Mexico to the Canadian border. Named a New York Times Notable Book and Editors’ Choice, Nomadland won the 2017 Discover Award and was a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Prize and the Helen Bernstein Book Award.”
Chloe Zhao is much admired for two previous films, “The Rider” and “Songs My Brothers Taught Me.” If she’s not nominated for Best Director then that’s it, I’m sorry. Ava Duvernay and Greta Gerwig have recently been snubbed, but this can’t go on. Zhao I think rhymes with wow. What a pleasure.
Just a PS, I am so disappointed there’s no Q&A following this movie, in the theater, where we can meet the people and ask questions. I need a Peggy Siegal lunch and Q&A session for this film in New York, where people can meet and mingle. This is so important to the process.