The Reel Review


Two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) stars in this drama about a woman from a small town in Nevada who becomes a modern day nomad in 2011 after both her husband and then her tiny hometown dies after the Great Recession. It is loosely based on the 2017 novel by Jessica Bruder.

Frances McDormand in Nomadland.

First and foremost, the story from writer/director Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Songs My Brothers Taught Me), is about grief and loss, as McDormand’s Fern, untethered from her former life, wanders the West picking up odd jobs and sleeping in her van. McDormand, as always, is a tour de force, her facial expressions revealing so much in a subtle film that has a deep, documentary vibe to it. Other than McDormand and David Strathairn, the rest of Nomadland’s castmembers are actual nomads. Swankie’s story is particularly profound and moving.

Frances McDormand and David Strathairn in Nomadland.

The beauty of this film is that it is a Rorschach test for the viewer. Some will see Zhao’s portrait of nomadic life set to scenic sunsets and a simple piano score as sad, depressing and lonely. Others will see it as wonderfully liberating – a love letter to America’s West and the colorful folks who have opted for an unconventional lifestyle to embrace it. While there is an unfulfilled potential for a truly powerhouse film about America’s nomads, this film, about one woman’s journey, is still thought-provoking and haunting in its own right.


Frances McDormand, Chloé Zhao, Charlene Swankie and Linda May at a September 11, 2020 drive-in screening of Nomadland in Pasadena, California.

Nomadland was filmed over a four month period in 2018, with McDormand actually performing several of the jobs done by people who perform nomadic work, such as harvesting beets and packaging Amazon orders.

• Frances McDormand is one of only 24 performers to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting (Oscar, Tony and Emmy wins). Others include Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Ellen Burstyn, Jessica Lange, Viola Davis and Glenda Jackson.

• For her 2017 book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” (link to buy, above the REEL FACTS), Jessica Bruder spent months living in a camper, driving more than 15,000 miles from coast to coast and from Mexico to the Canadian border, documenting itinerant Americans who gave up traditional housing to live on the road.

Video & Photo

1 videos

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.