Nomadland is considered by many to be the odds-on Oscar favorite for the top prizes. To that I say, don’t discount the sheer volume of older voters that were put off by McDormand’s tantrum of an acceptance speech during her Three Billboards win. For as much as the Internet wants to believe their opinions and hot takes matter, there is something that always upsets voting. Cranky, older viewers that don’t like to be lectured by even crankier actors.
All of that is a shame, as Director Chloe Zhao is the first true technical master filmmaker in ages. For far too long, we were told to accept people like Christopher Nolan as the new masters of filmcraft. Zhao does something in her direction, editing and camera work that is long needed in American film. She brings hope and humanity back into the art of filmmaking. You feel the people she shoots, regardless of what film she’s working on currently.
What Frances McDormand does here straddles the line in terms of performance acceptance. After I first saw Nomadland, I called it David Lean directing a Stanley Kramer movie. But, the truth lives elsewhere. Too many people want Nomadland to slam Amazon fulfillment centers or poke holes in the van nomad culture. Hell, many of the people featured in the film are real life influencers that live this for real.
All the while, you have Fern (McDormand) making peace with the loss of her normalcy. Her home is a ghost town, her husband is in the ground and everyone wants her to quit into early retirement. Some will see Nomadland as a film that doesn’t go far enough. Others will see it as an unblinking portrait of the changing America in the face of globalization. There are going to be people that get left behind.
2020 and beyond has begun the Age of Disruption that impacts the commonplace to those in the Ivory Tower. Life shifts, as demands made on us all changes wildly. People have lost children, homes, jobs, spouses and any sense of who they were. So many want to make these giant missives about how we are not our possessions. But, that’s easier to say when your home didn’t just blow a tire out in the middle of the Southwest wilderness.
What Frances McDormand searches for in Nomadland isn’t the American Dream, but a sense of comfort that she can accept. Watching David Strathairn abandon the road to return to his son’s family says a lot about what’s going on within Fern. This is about more than changing her life, this is about realizing that her old life is over. The road goes on forever and she’s not ready to stop meeting people further down it.
If American Cinema in 2020 taught me anything, it’s that the Zeitgeist loves to wallow in misery. These films also serve to instruct how you embrace change in socially acceptable fashions. You can be a loveable weird on the road, as long as you serve communities and make sure to keep working. Want to be a freak during the summer? Well, you’re working at Amazon at Christmas time.
What is so funny about Nomadland is that the Mike Rowe “Dirty Jobs” undercurrents are throughout the source book and the film. Yet, it’s fashionable to crap on one thing, but not the other. It’s something to consider, but I know that most people won’t.