Life & Culture

Film review: Nomadland

This piece of social realism deserves its awards, says Linda Marric



Frances McDormand delivers a career-best turn in this gently meditative drama from Chinese-American filmmaker Chloé Zhao (The Rider), which was richly rewarded at the Oscars. Based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, it focuses on a community of van-dwellers and deals with themes surrounding the failure of the American dream, poverty and disenfranchisement in one of the world’s richest countries.

After the death of her husband, Fern (McDormand), a woman in her sixties, sees her home repossessed after becoming one of the millions of victims of the 2008 recession. With no job prospects or a place to call home, Fern embarks on a life-changing journey through the American West and becomes a van-dwelling seasonal worker. She soon realises that life on the road has given her a new lease of life.

Nomadland tells a compelling story of empowerment and non-conformity while broaching some timely social themes. Aside from McDormand and David Strathairn (recently seen in BBC’s McMafia) who stars as Fern’s would-be suitor, Zhao uses mostly non professional actors to play fictional versions of themselves.

Just like her 2017 feature The Rider — a film about a young cowboy searching for a new identity after a near-fatal accident — Zhao capitalises on the real life experiences of her non professional actors to present a genuinely awe-inspiring piece of filmmaking.

Nomadland is a beautiful slice of Americana which often feels more like a docu-drama than a narrative film, and that is where its appeal lies. Elevated by McDormand’s commendably natural performance, Nomadland delivers something new after each watch and deserves its Oscars.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive