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Nomadland

Year: 2020
Production Co: Cor Cordium Productions
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writer: Chloé Zhao
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn

This film is the very model of a modern award winner machine tooled for prestige rather than popularity, the kind of thing the slightly anti-woke left rail against every year when they ask why great movies can't be entertaining any more.

In this case I kind of agree. It does indeed show you a side of life you've never seen before (which is what cinema is for) and it is a worthy story to tell. But in this case it was the narrative itself that let the proceedings down, all of it feeling more like a collection of episodes and ideas strung together than having a distinct story to tell.

Though it sounds like a backwards criticism to make, Writer/director Chloe Zhao wanted to show you what life is like for Fern (Frances McDormand) and her contemporaries, but didn't really have anything to tell you about it.

It's about how unmoored seniors in the modern economy drift around various jobs and places to live, falling into and out of groups and friendships according to their circumstances when the world and the (failed) economy has left them behind and there's no social welfare to take care of them.

If it isn't working for peanuts in an Amazon packing warehouse, it's coming together in something like a commune where they scrape a living out of the desert while swapping stories of their lives.

Owing to their age, those discussions are about (sometimes estranged) families, the illness and physical decline of advancing years and the coming of the inevitable, and as Fran takes her campervan around the country looking for whatever opportunity can put food on her makeshift table, she both learns and imparts (to others as well as us) what life is like for this new invisible underclass.

The film eventually and very gently moves into the telling of an actual story when another professional nomad, Dave (David Strathairn) takes a liking to Fern and gradually offers her some of the stability and connection she's been without for so long. What Fern ultimately does in response to it is as mysterious as it is seemingly uncharacteristic, but at least the whole thing finally seems to be saying something about her rather than just situate her in her world.

You'll feel like a better person for having watched it, but there's nothing terribly gripping on screen while it's actually going on. What is a pleasure to watch however is that (somewhat paradoxically considering she's more of a cypher for the audience for most of the film than a fully drawn character) McDormand can out-act most of her far younger industry peers with one hand tied behind her back.

Maybe the most interesting thing about it is how Amazon agreed to a movie painting it in such a negative light – and on one of its corporate premises, no less.

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