‘Nomandland’ Review

Sometimes the best way is the simplest way.

“Nomadland” stars Frances McDormand as a woman who lives out of her van, traveling the Midwest. Chloé Zhao writes, directs, and edits.

Subtle and minimalistic filmmaking has always been hit or miss for me. I love Tom McCarthy’s nearly non-presence in “Spotlight,” but Jeff Nichols’ removed touch with “Loving” didn’t work in a film with such high stakes. With “Nomadlamd,” Chloé Zhao has delicately created what feels at times almost too real, like a documentary, and an everyday slice of rural Americana.

Zhao captures life in small towns and camaraderie among nodmads in such an honest way, and knows when to hold a close-up or cut to a wide shot. Her direction is barely noticeable, instead letting her actors (most of which are real people, not professionals) fill the world. The film is also cut wonderfully by Zhao, with the first hour especially flying by.

McDormand is so sympathetic, witty, and innocent here, from making honking sounds while pretending to drive an RV to not getting angry at someone who accidentally hurts her. Her character has had some personal struggles in the past (this is set in 2012, right after a lot of mining towns were hit hard), but seems to go on without much care; just keep livin’, baby. There are moments of brief pain or frustration, but McDormand displays them at the proper restraint as only our weird queen can. 

The score by Ludovico Einaudi is mostly piano, and it’s so wonderfully melancholic. Partnered with some of cinematographer Joshua James Richards’ beautiful shots of crashing waves or purple mountains, and it’s almost enough to put you in a trance.

“Nomadland” is one of those “not really much is happening” movies, so if for whatever reason you heard the plot summary, “Frances McDormand travels the country in a van” and were hoping this would turn into “The Revenant,” you’ll be disappointed. But for those who want a humanistic character study that feels genuine and takes place in a world you’ve seen before (or maybe even live in now), seek this one out.

Critics Rating: 9/10

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