Frances McDormand, Gay DeForest, Patricia Grier, David Strathairn
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Frances McDormand’s performance is immaculate…
Based on a non-fiction book, Nomadland is set in 2011, not long after the Great Recession. With the closure of a mine in Empire, Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) has lost everything: house, job… But much much more crucially, death has taken away her beloved husband. Fern now lives in a van, and has an itinerant life moving around the West and picking up work where she can.
In the course of her wandering, Fern meets a host of fellow nomads, many of whom have had their own share of hard luck and been shafted by corporate America. There’s a slow-burning rapport with an amiable man called Dave (David Strathairn), but this is not a story with a great deal of plot. To be fair, that is rather the point, given the abiding tone of restlessness and irresolution. What pleasures there are here, reside in the minutiae of life.
Nomadland is a mixed bag. It definitely has its moments and is at its best when dealing with mortality and loss rather than friendship. The scene where a woman with terminal brain cancer waxes lyrical about the joy of watching birdlife is a highlight. And Frances McDormand’s performance is immaculate – as usual – which is just as well as she’s in every scene. All the other people (some of whom play themselves) are fine too. And the striking scenery and cinematography make this definitely one for the big screen. But despite Fern’s persona being a complex mixture of warmth and guardedness, there’s an implicit sentimentality about the film’s overall style which can be tiresome. The surfeit of swelling strings on the soundtrack doesn’t help either.