It’s a metaphorically post-apocalyptic tale, although it doesn’t take place in the future and there’s no thunderdome. The fury on this road is that feeling of running away from and toward something simultaneously, of paying homage to a bygone era while saying hello to what comes next around the bend in an America that has discarded many of a certain age in its working class ranks. Chloé Zhao’s revelatory Nomadland (B+) is a poignant travelogue with a pensive and resourceful protagonist named Fern, played marvelously by Frances McDormand. Fern lives in a converted van and takes odd jobs to support her modest lifestyle, and the film is largely an episodic account of her encounters on the road. Other than a winning David Straitharn in a supporting role, most of the cast is comprised of unknowns on their own voyage in a camper van culture through states like Nevada and South Dakota and scenes both bleak and picturesque. The film is elegiac and lyrical, a very interior movie of feelings and impulses, in which the sun itself in various states of repose in the sky flashes brilliance on the details of small moments. More than a feminist take on Into the Wild –a van-gina monologues, if you will – Zhao’s presentation speaks to very specific travails ranging from grieving a loved one to maintaining dignity in menial work. It’s a lovely and melancholy motion picture and rests squarely on McDormand’s superlative performance and her brilliant instincts as she confronts situations in humanity and nature. For those who enjoy thought provoking character journeys, Zhao’s assured work here will carry you away into a tribe and terrain rarely charted.
Available on Hulu