Critics' Review: Nomadland Sways Between Friendship & Solitude

The film is an adaptation of author Jessica Bruder's book, 'Nomadland: Surviving America In the 21st Century'

Movie Reviews
3 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Still from Nomadland (2020)</p></div>

Filmmaker Chloé Zhao's Nomadland, that premiered at the Venice Film Festival has caused quite a stir. Starring Frances McDormand in the lead role, it follows the story of a middle-aged woman who deals with the implications of living in America after losing everything in the Great Recession.

It has received an overwhelming response from almost all international critics. Here's what some of them had to say:

"Friendship and solitude are the poles between which Zhao’s film oscillates. It has a loose, episodic structure, and a mood of understated toughness that matches the ethos it explores. To some degree, “Nomadland” wishes to be settled — wants not necessarily to domesticate its heroine, but at least to bend her journey into a more-or-less predictable arc. At the same time, and in a fine Emersonian spirit, the movie rebels against its own conventional impulses, gravitating toward an idea of experience that is more complicated, more open-ended, more contradictory than what most American movies are willing to permit".
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
"Sometimes Nomadland looks like a very, very sweet and positive version of Mad Max – a film about a postapocalyptic US where the people riding around in vans and trucks are just hippy-ish souls who only want to help each other. I spent a few anxious minutes here and there waiting for what I assumed would be the inevitable incursion by violent Hells Angels or sneery materialists, but it never happened. And in some ways this isn’t quite a postapocalypse: the nomads find work and their lives have a kind of purpose, even a nobility. Fern’s sister compares them to American pioneers. At times, the film looks like a tour of a deserted planet, where there is also tourist-trade work to be had. But the nomads are not alone. They have each other, and their relationship to the non-nomad world is far from hostile".
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
"In her nonjudgmental way, Zhao invites audiences to decide for themselves what they make of Fern’s lifestyle, which comes with certain dangers: She could freeze to death in her van, food and first aid are sometimes hard to find, and certain aspects of her behavior might suggest mental health issues. Some people need structure, while others abhor complacency. In both cases, we see inertia at play: It can be as hard to escape the hamster wheel of working to pay one’s mortgage as it is to pull off the highway and settle down. Fern hasn’t necessarily decided. She’s still testing the waters of a nomadic existence, so we learn as she does, collecting suggestions from those more experienced".
Peter Debruge, Variety
"Nomadland is interested in the forlorn, the left-behinds, the no-hopers; they have always been with us, but perhaps not this conspicuously since the 1930s. While the life trajectories of the people onscreen are not delineated in much detail, the dominant impression, starting with Fern, is of once-stable, income-producing people whom American society has failed. This is a sad tale, gentle rather than intent on finger-pointing or sociological analysis; it’s not a political tract but it’s hard to imagine many people watching this film and not coming out of it feeling that there’s something in the country—and perhaps the world–quite out of alignment".
Todd McCarthy, Deadline
"She (Fern) might fit the conventional picture of the American underclass, but her dignity, her self-sufficiency and her romantic kinship with the drifters of the Old West set her apart, without obscuring her pain and vulnerability. Under Zhao's alert, compassionate gaze, that portrait extends to the many people Fern meets as she bumps along from one destination to the next. Like Zhao's earlier work, Nomadland is an unassuming film, its aptly meandering, unhurried non-narrative layering impressions rather than building a story with the standard markers".
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

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