Nomadland: Chloe Zhao’s Tale of Rootless Life on the Road, Starring Frances McDormand in a Towering Performance

In her third–and best film–the gifted director Chloe Zhao returns to the modern Western genre with Nomadland, a quietly powerful tale of one strong woman and a lifestyle that has seldom been portrayed in Hollywood movies, indies included.

In scope, ambition, and execution, Nomadlandsurpasses Zhao’s breakthrough movie, The Rider, which was also a neo-western.

It concerns men and women, of all ages, most of whom forced to live a rootless existence as nomads, traveling across America.
Based on the book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” the film stars Frances McDormand as Fern,
She is a woman whose livelihood dries up in her small Nevada town, prompting her to pack her belongings into a rundown van and hit the road.

Along the way, she encounters a number of other nomads — many played by people actually living that life — forging passing bonds, engaging in philosophical discussion and sharing tips about surviving this hard-bitten path.

McDormand communicates a whole lot of sadness and pain with mere expressions, and no dialogue.  Indeed, Fern is a woman of few words, finding a recurring presence along the way in Dave (David Strathairn, one of the few recognizable faces beyond hers).

The colorful, eccentric personalities that she meets, each of whom has a story to tell.

Fern’s van basically becomes another character, to the extent that it’s a not-terribly-reliable companion on this journey of personal discovery, which doubles as a tour of America’s great open spaces.

Zhao’s movie is defined by its texture and tone, not by its plot. She offers, without a judgment, a window into a way of life that is both foreign and unfamiliar to most viewers, American and others.

It’s a meticulously crafted movie in every department, anchored by a star at the top of her game.

Nomadland, rated R, premieres February 19 in select theaters and on Hulu, where it should pick up its widest exposure.