Directed by Chloe Zhao.
Starring Frances McDormand, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Bob Wells and David Strathairn. Streaming on Disney + from April 30th. In cinemas from May 17th.108 mins.
Arriving with an oppressive uniformity of critical acclaim, and Oscars, you might feel inclined to take against Nomadland just to buck the trend. And it is a film that could, initially, leave you wondering what all the fuss is about. McDormand is a woman nearing retirement age who takes to the road in a camper van after she's widowed. We see her working at Amazon (contentedly, a bit of product placement?), travelling to campsites and becoming part of a travelling community. There doesn't appear to be much to it. And then you realise that the not-much-to-it is what makes it special.
Zhao's previous work has seen her explore the gap between drama and documentary. In The Rider, the family and friends of a former rodeo star recreate the story of him adapting to life after a career-ending injury. This though is like a dramatised version of an ITV celebrity travelogue but with McDormand in the Joanna Lumley role. She's fictional, but most of the people she meets aren't. McDormand isn't really acting but being a conduit for people to reveal themselves through.
The result is a unique mix of Michael Moore and John Ford. Obviously, there is a critique of the heartless excesses of free-market capitalism. The town McDormand's character has lived in all her married life disappears when the gypsum mine at its heart closes after the '08 recession. Within a few years it no longer even has a zip code. But, outrageous as it is that their retirement will be travelling around looking for work, everybody seems to embrace the lifestyle and possibilities of the open road. It's tough, but that's the frontier spirit and the scenery lifts the spirits. Waking up in the Badlands is a little more inspiring than caravanning around the Lake District.
So it's an anti-American celebration of American possibilities and ingenuity. They're making their American dream out of its nightmare, working towards a lifestyle that is less materialistic and more sustainable. And they all seem to have internet access. What you lose in toilet facilities you gain in freedom. They're not there yet but perhaps the film is How The West Can Be Won Again.