Nomadland

Nomadland ★★★★½

I was mostly wrapped in the spell of "Nomadland," either completely absorbed by its world or internalizing the choices made by mother the main and supporting characters vis a vis my own life, but when I had outside thoughts, they were usually in two categories:

1) I really wish I could have seen "Nomadland" on the big screen and in a theatrical environment, which isn't always a thought I've had during these past 11+ months. I liked "Nomadland" a LOT, at times loved it, but Chloe Zhao's work has a particular blend of intimate and epic and they benefit from an immersion that also lets you tune out distractions as much as possible. I know the movie got some IMAX dates and when I heard those bookings, I was initially a tiny bit perplexed, but after seeing the movie I wasn't anymore because Joshua James Richards' cinematography is stunning whether it's capturing vast vistas of nature or just trained closely on Francis McDormand's face. Being in a perfect seat in an IMAX theater with the movie basically all around you would be pretty much perfect.

2) At almost every turn, I briefly pondered how bad "Nomadland" could have been with a different writer-director. Like the Ron Howard who directed "Hillbilly Elegy" would have made a completely unbearable version of this movie. [Oddly, the Ron Howard who made "The Missing" might have done a decent job.] It's not profound to say Zhao makes classic Hollywood Westerns, which she does. But she also makes movies that are wildly sentimental, but she doesn't tell you she's doing it. Whatever sentiment gets ladled in here comes mostly from the audience's response, from actual empathy rather than sympathy and a lesser filmmaker would have made every piece of "plot" more concrete, every character beat more clear, because that's what the screenwriting books tell you to do. Ludovico Einaudi's score here is a wonderful thing, but imagine this movie with a more on-the-nose score, something telling you what to think about situations in a movie in which the main character poops in a bucket and it's never mentioned again.

McDormand is wonderful here and she's matched in consummate subtlety by David Strathairn as two actors capable of being so not-actorly that the blend in with a supporting cast of amateurs. I think there's a reading of "Nomadland" that it's a documentary like "Somebody Feed Phil" only one in which Phil pooped in a bucket.

Anyway, "Nomadland" is a lovely movie, just as "The Rider" was a lovely movie. I haven't seen "Songs My Brothers Taught Me," which makes me sad. All I want is for "Eternals" to feel at least equally like a Chloe Zhao movie as like an MCU movie.