A Movie Review for You: Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland”

Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland (2021) is making headlines across the nation after its release last week on Feb. 19. Nomadland is centered around a character named Fern, played by Frances McDormand. Fern is a middle aged woman who lives as a modern day nomad, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a member of a people who have no fixed residence but move from place to place usually seasonally and within a well-defined territory.” Zhao’s work is currently streaming on Hulu and is available in a limited range of theaters.

Set in the United States, the film follows Fern’s travels through Nevada, Arizona, South Dakota and more. Her white van becomes the key symbol of her life on the road, serving as her place of rest and mode of transportation. The film is not just about her travels, but also about the people she meets on the way — connection is central to the plot. Characters come and go, accentuating Fern’s life on her own.

Nomadland’s setting makes for a significant part of the mise-en-scéne. From the astonishing sunsets in the Badlands to the Arizona desert, Fern’s appreciation of and relationship with nature is made apparent. Nature is contrasted with her different work environments, which are ever-changing. Although her work is constantly differing from location to location, the one constant throughout the film is the beauty of the places she lives. 

McDormand has been widely applauded for her role as Fern. She has had many critically acclaimed roles, such as her work in Almost Famous (2000) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), for which she took home both a Golden Globe and Academy Award.

This year, USA Today predicts McDormand will take home the Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Drama for her performance in Nomadland. 

“Although it’s a stacked category, ‘Nomadland” has a lot of good will going into the Oscars and so it goes with McDormand, whose performance as a traveling working widow is absolutely essential,” Brian Truitt wrote.

Other competitors in this group include Carey Mulligan’s performance in Promising Young Women (2020), Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020), Andra Day for The United States vs Billie Holiday (2021) and Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Women (2020). 

Rotten Tomatoes also predicts that Nomadland will take him the Golden Globe for best Motion Picture Drama.

In a battle between Nomadland and The Trial of the Chicago 7, it’s a bit of a toss-up on who deserves it. However, the wanderlust drama starring Frances McDormand is one of the few studio films in competition this season, which we think is enough to tip the scales in its favor just for the sake of balance. Both worthy selections, but it’s hard to argue with Nomadland’s more than 100 wins this awards season thus far,” Debbie Day and Jacqueline Coley wrote. 

Critics consider Nomadland to be one of the best films of the year, crediting McDormand with its success. Whether or not this year’s award season goes as predicted, the attention to Zhao’s master cinematography is deserved.