The 2021 Awards Season landscape faced its fair share of damage from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the year’s biggest contenders opted to move back a year to compete in the 2022 awards circut to reach for their full potential. The result is a relatively lackluster slate of awards-bait films that likely would not have performed as well any other year… save for Nomadland.
From the beginning, the hype surrounding Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland was literally unbelievable. The ominous hype began when it swept the top awards at both the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival (the first film ever to do so). Later on as the festival circuit evolved into general awards season, Nomadland continued to sweep in every major ceremony in every major category (picture, directing, writing, and more). It seemed extremely unlikely that a melodramatic depiction of modern, van-dwelling nomads could ever live up to the hype that the industry set for it, but its never been so rewarding to be so wrong.
Nomadland is adapted from a non-fiction book of the same name that explores the community’s struggle to survive in 21st century America. The film is written, directed, edited, and produced by rising star Chloé Zhao who frames the the story through the eyes of Fern (Francis McDormond), a woman in her 60s who is forced to redefine her happiness when her husband dies and society abandons her in the midst of the Great Recession. Despite being abandoned after decades of meaningful contribution to society, Fern takes her fate into her own hands and becomes a “houseless” nomad who travels country alone in her van. Along the way, Fern experiences the highs and lows of this lifestyle, all-the-while meeting some of the most beautiful souls along the road (portrayed by real life nomads).
Nomadland covers a unique community of people that is often ignored all facets of society. These nomads are treated like a stain on the American dream, but this film finally shows their side of the story. Nomadland makes no assumptions and takes no liberties. Chloe Zhao literally lets these nomads tell their own story on their own terms. Their lives aren’t defined by their pain and their struggles, but by the beautiful life they are able to build with one another after their previous lives were destroyed by the darkest realities of society.
Chloé Zhao masterfully injects this story with a perfect balance of the beauty and horror that honorable, working-class people face everyday. Nomadland and the nomads that populate it are not telling this story as a cry for help for themselves; its a cautionary tale for society to understand that there are millions of people who experience these horrors everyday but don’t get a second chance. These nomads give a masterclass in selflessness that fights to help those who haven’t been broken by the system yet and still have a chance to avoid their pain. Nomadland gives a unique perspective that shows the brightest lights can be found in the darkest corners.
The film itself is also a technical masterpiece that justifies every accolade given to it. Chloé Zhao’s quadruple threat performance as director, writer, editor, and producer gives her full ownership over the magic of this film. She shoots and edits the film in a way that reflects the highest highs, the lowest lows, and the directionless freedom that the nomadic lifestyle has to offer. Zhao deserves every single award she is getting for the film (including a historic best director win at the Oscars).
Additionally, Francis McDormand does a fantastic job depicting a woman of this lifestyle, but the true standouts in the cast are the real life nomads with little to no prior acting experience. They welcome you into their life in a way that reflects the community as a whole, and even though Francis McDormand is a well known actress, it’s easy to forget that and experience the welcoming atmosphere along with her because the movie feels so genuine in its depiction of their kindness.
Ultimately, there’s not enough good things to say about this film. It’s by far the best awards film to come out this year or in recent years, which gives it the perfect all clear to dominate the season (as it should). To the nomads who welcomed us into their lives and their stories with open arms: thank you for your warmth, thank you for your resilience, and thank you for your lifetime of service.
Thank you and see you down the road.
Filmnetic Grade: A+
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