Nomadland ★★½

Wow. Okay. Where to start?

I wanted to like this, and that’s a problem. I had a feeling, before watching it, that Nomadland would never have won big had not The Year of Great Pain happened: indie, arty films with gorgeous vistas and sunsets, scripted-reality non-pro actors, gritty this is the real America messages just don’t cut it at big awards ceremonies, let alone capture hearts and minds of most multiplex goers. But, now I wonder whether it was any of those things at all. Dare I say it, but Nomadland feels contrived, and there are more than a few reasons for this.

One. The coziness with Amazon should worry us. I get Fern working there makes sense, in a way, but there’s neither criticism - she actually implicitly praises them - nor awareness of the implicit circumstances of a multinational giant’s role in homogenising and making brittle the socio-economic fabric of post-recession America. Also, if the film is set in 2011, why’s the fulfilment centre clearly in 2018?

Two. I applaud the finding of good in these nomads, and pushing the narrative of every person having good in them, of finding and building communities based in trust and shared experiences is important, but in reality, this was the quagmire which birthed Trump, both electorally and economically, and ignoring that can only be deliberate: MAGA is an elephant trampling all over each RV park, its Qdroppings stinking out the place. If Nomadland is the new frontier - and it’s right there in Western territory - then the casting director’s forgotten to hire any Injuns.

Three. The classic indie shots, handheld camera, sparse piano - all it’s lacking is a bearded man drinking AeroPress single origin coffee, wearing a beanie and reading Monocle, and I think this man is only missing because he’d break the fourth wall. I feel a little duped, to be honest, especially with Zhao having directed the delayed Eternals

Look, McDormand is wonderful, as always. Straithairn is great. The non-pros are magnificent, and a story is worth telling, but I’m not even sure what the story is: Fern? The Nomads? Corporate America? Capitalism? Family? There’s a scene where they all discuss why they’re there, and each story is different, which is interesting in and of itself, but where’s the focus? What Nomadland seems to say is, ‘Look at this beautiful mess, filled with beautiful people’: it’s nothing more than poverty-gazing, Zoolander’s ‘Derelicte’ for the educated.

Nomadland is touching in so many ways, but despite the reality of it all, and despite the reality of its inhabitants, I’m not sure what’s actually real at all, beyond a beautiful vanity project.

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