I have a friend who despises Frances McDormand. I think his beef with her is over a style issue – McDormand doesn’t really come off as the fashionable sort, and when she attends events such as Oscars, he finds her appearance lacking, or in his words, ‘disrespectful.’ Though I admit to agreeing with him on that front, she is also not my favorite when it comes to acting – her style strikes me as overly technical, every tic and word rehearsed. But she has won two Academy Awards so what do I know? She is in almost every frame in Chloe Zhao’s ‘Nomadland,’ and I think here she gives a masterful performance and is the heart and soul of a movie that is chock full of heart and soul.
I didn’t think I would like this film when I first heard about it. I didn’t know if a movie about nomads would hold my interest. But surely the film is much more than that. It’s a meditation on loneliness, of freedom, of what to do when you don’t know what to do next. Fern lost her husband, her home, and everything else she has known and seeks to find meaning in the open road. And the film isn’t really about what she finds – it’s about the acceptance of the choices you make based on the situations you are in. As Fern, McDormand gives an open-eyed weariness and vulnerability that will capture you. She learns more about herself in each interaction she has with people on the road. When she strikes a connection with someone you think will give her stability, the film doesn’t give you tropes, it challenges you in where it takes the story.This film has won the top prize in Venice and Toronto film festivals, and I surmise more forthcoming. It’s the perfect film for the times we live in – it offers insight on all the uncertainties we are experiencing in the world today. It doesn’t give us answers, it gives us a path to a road to it.