Without much notable incident, a masterful memorial to the American Dream achieves poignancy from the disastrous economic fallout of 2008.
Nomadland stars Frances McDormand and David Strathairn among a cast largely of non-professionals in what feels like a quasi-documentary.
Chloe Zhao worked wonders from an injured cowboy trying to rediscover himself in America’s heartland in The Rider. Now, she finds rustic enclaves in going from Empire, Nevada where the gypsum mine business goes under.
The director translates a 2018 Jessica Bruder novel in an unconventional, if circular fashion through McDormand’s widow sexagenarian Fern on the road in her small recreational vehicle.
The portrait of this ‘houseless’ woman has her joining other migrants of her demographic initially getting temporary warehouse employment at Amazon. Panoramic vistas from South Dakota to Quartzite, Arizona accentuates the landscapes courtesy of lensing pro Joshua James Richards.
Fern learns the ‘ropes’ of a pretty large community from those like Linda May, Swankie, and an especially affecting Bob Wells. A friendship occurs with Dave (Strathairn) who meets up with her on several occasions as his feelings go beyond the platonic, more than she may wish to explore.
The cooperate shackles undone allow for personalities relate their experiences in a new way of life, including earning a living. Without medical insurance vulnerability comes in accounts of physical and emotional hardships. Fern gets a dose of reality in her hermitic transition when calling on her sister (Melissa Smith) for a major expense when she’s not making the doughnuts to make ends meet.
Part of the unique authenticity is having the cast and crew ‘rough it’ giving independence and dignity a very palpable, even interpretive pull. Within a noticeable lifestyle what is hardly gossipy happens to be bracing with selflessness and without exploitation.
Often an unexpected, compelling union with nature, little vignettes offer much humanistic expression in Zhao’s canvas where parting isn’t really allowed. Not really ‘off the grind’ these undetected, populous Baby Boomers reveal much character from unavoidable charge.
In this unusually interesting group Strathairn evinces a reluctant demeanor that tests Dave’s resiliency against domesticity. A subtle, lived-in expression of Fern gives McDormand another high-caliber turn of mesmerizing indefatigability that arguably rivals her justice-minded mother in Three Billboards and her ‘ya’ assured, pregnant sheriff in Fargo.
The jobs and relationships may seem fleeting in a ruminative Nomadland that doesn’t rush in its travels and rendering of travails which ends up being a remarkable sophomore outing for Zhao. With a conclusion that is all the more satisfying and special given resolute, real-life folks unequivocally empowered by the opportunity for what alternates between the breathtaking and the painstaking.