Author Topic: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece  (Read 281 times)

Offline perc2100

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OK, this film is a bit atypical to bring up here for a few different reasons: it won't be in (some semblance of) wide release until mid-February and it's an incredibly small film that's not a genre film of any sort.  However, it is 1) an absolutely incredible film 2) directed by ChloĆ© Zhao, who not only was a finalist for directed Marvel's BLACK WIDOW, but IS the director of next November's ETERNALS, Marvel's bonkers cosmic film.

NOMADLAND is based on the nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, and is produced/stars Frances McDormand (one of the few actors to win the "triple crown" of acting awards: (2) Oscars, (2) Prime-time Emmys, and a Tony).  The film is about MdDormand's character, Fern, who's lost her job when a mining company went out of business (this happened in real life), devastating and entire town's population; she also lost her husband, and decided to sell all of her things and hit the road: at first to search for work, but then to search for...something else - something maybe even she can't quite articulate, but that innate sense of belonging or purpose or wonder that we're all searching for to some degree.  She works at an Amazon fulfillment warehouse for awhile and meets a woman, Linda, who is also somewhat of a nomad: someone who travels around because they can and encourages Fern to head to the deserts of AZ to join a nomad community.  After trying in vain to find work, she hops in her van and does indeed head to AZ.

The rest of the film mixes beautiful widescreen shots of American landscape with real life American nomads.  Zhao (who also wrote the adapted screenplay and edited the film) does a nice job of weaving real life nomads, who likely have a FAR better sense of the life than the rest of us, with fictional stories; the nomads play fictionalized versions of themselves.  For example, Fern meets up with and befriends real life nomad Swankie while staying in a commune where leader Bob Wells (another real life nomad) informs passersby how to survive, accomplish tasks from the road, and is really a support system for fellow nomads.  It's a fascinating way of life that feels like a sequel of sorts to another real life story, INTO THE WILD, about an intelligent, young college grad who instead of going to law school gives everything away to be a nomad (that story ends tragically, as the naive youngin heads into the Alaskan interior Forrests ill prepared and died).

But here's the kicker: Fern is one of the younger folks living this lifestyle that's seemingly made up of mostly senior citizens.  The film does not paint a picture of desperate Americans who had not other choice, but instead kind of rides the line between, "yeah these people are not coming from lives of wealth or privilege" and "these people are making the conscious life to live 'free' instead of be tethered to a mortgage and career."  That is incredibly outside of my life and so I was fascinated by this seemingly bizarro lifestyle.  At one point, Fern sees a former student (she spent some time before the movie begins as a substitute teacher) who asks Fern if it's true she's homeless, to which Fern replies, "no, I'm not homeless, I'm just houseless: it's not the same thing, right?"  McDormand is incredible in a truly understated role: she brings such weight to her character without being too over dramatic or 'showy' in a wonderfully subtle performance.  You always get the feeling that there is hurt, or pain behind her eyes, but she's either too stubborn to let anyone in or she's strong enough to keep forging ahead to her next journey.  She never feels like she's desperate in her situation (like, for example, some parts of ERIN BROCKOVICH), or even like her life is spinning wildly out of her control.  Her life is merely just what it is and she's doing her thing.  There are times when Fern is offered long-term (and sometimes short-term) housing and she refuses.  Her friends around her come and go, just as they would in a true nomadic lifestyle, and sometimes that registers with her but often it doesn't.  There's no WAY she won't get at least nominated for Best Actress. and she'll likely be the first actress to be nominated for an Acting prize as well as for Best Picture as a producer.  I've read that she spent significant time living in 'her' van, and doing the jobs her Fern does on screen (though she half-jokes she stopped doing that after a bit, because "it's better for me to act like I'm exhausted all the time rather than to actually be exhausted all the time").  There are dialogue scenes of fellow (real life) nomads talking to Fern about their lives (one is riddled with cancer with a short life expectancy but decides she'd rather make good memories on the road rather than be bed-ridden in a hospital to finish her life) that are confidently shot holding on the storyteller's face for (relatively) ling takes: especially impressive when remembering a lot of these stories are from non-actors.

This film feels like it 'coincidentally' captured the entire essence of the 2020 pandemic lock-downs: the essence of what is the most difficult year in almost all of our lives.  I've been fortunate throughout this pandemic (so far  :-X ) where my wife and I have to lost our jobs (I lost a bit of pay, but nothing I would complain about) and our families have maintained good health.  But I suspect this movie will play very different for folks who've lost their jobs, or have had to live with substantial uncertainty.  I sincerely wish I could've seen this film _before_ this winter, even before the summer, to feel how this film would play under more normal circumstances.  In a world where we've all had to 'pivot' and radically shift how we approach our daily lives, NOMADLAND features the widow who eludes the loneliness of growing old in rural America by reinventing her relationship to it.  In a world where we all had to change our lives on a dime, a film about a woman who also radically changes her point of view was sobering for me to watch: impossible not to correlate with our 2020 world.  The film centers its perspective on Fern.  In doing so, the movie settles into a fascinating window into the psychological hurdles of 2020 (and, if we're being honest, 2021 which may indeed get far worse before things get better).

This is a truly beautiful character study that doesn't exactly have a traditional plot/story.  Unlike writer/director Zhao's previous (great) film THE RIDER (featuring all Native Americans, about a rodeo rider from a struggling family who has suffered a significant setback after a performance ended in brain trauma), which kind of/sort of has a resolute ending, NOMADLAND is more a snapshot of Fern's life on the road: neither a happy nor particularly sad one, merely a sobering one that feels incredibly real.  The film looks great, with lots of beautiful shots of the landscape (and some nice color contrast between the cold town Fern comes from and the dusty warm AZ deserts as well as mellowish CA).  If you liked Sean Penn's INTO THE WILD, think of this film as a spiritual sequel: like, if we took that film's hippie couple from Northern CA (Jan Burres and Rainey, played by Catherine Keener & Brian H. Dierker) and followed them around instead of the college grad.  This is maybe the best film I saw from 2020 and will almost certainly be talked about during Oscar and Golden Globe time (assuming those still happen  :-[ )

Offline TardisMom

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Re: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2021, 09:58:27 AM »
I'm jealous you've already seen this movie!  Frances McDormand is always fantastic, can't wait to see what she does with this role.  And each year as we drive from Phoenix to to San Diego or LA I wonder about the Into the Wild camp area, where exactly it is (near the Salton Sea??), and want more about how they live their lives. Really excited for this film.  I'm also looking forward to Promising Young Woman.

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Offline perc2100

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Re: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2021, 10:48:58 AM »
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I'm jealous you've already seen this movie!  Frances McDormand is always fantastic, can't wait to see what she does with this role.  And each year as we drive from Phoenix to to San Diego or LA I wonder about the Into the Wild camp area, where exactly it is (near the Salton Sea??), and want more about how they live their lives. Really excited for this film.  I'm also looking forward to Promising Young Woman.
PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN is def. on my "to watch" list: probably the first movie of 2021 for me, depending on how my schedule unfolds over the next couple of days

Offline perc2100

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Re: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2021, 12:41:38 PM »
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PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN is def. on my "to watch" list: probably the first movie of 2021 for me, depending on how my schedule unfolds over the next couple of days
It's reeeeeally good!

Offline perc2100

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Re: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2021, 09:11:16 AM »
NOMADLAND, one of the more highly critically-acclaimed films that will likely be nominated for several Oscars (and is a great film), is available now to stream on Hulu.  Go check it out for absolutely on-point look at America in 2021, as well as a culture I knew little/nothing about before the film (also get a look at the visual style and work of an upcoming Marvel Studios writer/director)

Offline TardisMom

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Re: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece
« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2021, 10:55:35 AM »
I rented out a theatre yesterday and my daughter, mom, a friend and a friend of Mom went to see Nomadland.

First of all, renting the entire theatre ($149) was probably overkill, as we only saw maybe 10 others in the lobby and maybe 4 employees, and didn't get near any other customers.  But I'm happy to put some money into the theatre so maybe it will still be there when we emerge from all this.

As far as the movie, WOW it's great!!  I always love Frances McDormand, and she is fantastic as always.  The movie is beautiful, what fabulous scenery!!  We got a kick out of seeing the Arizona sites (Quartzsite is on the way to LA, we pass thru there regularly and have bought stuff for the yard at the rock stand in the movie, and we have bells from Arcosanti on our patio  :) ).  There are so many things to discuss, from the mining jobs disappearing, to Amazon and their partial employment of so many people who need full time year-round jobs, to the way the Nomads help one another.  And what about the cute town she walked through in SD, was that Sturgis from the summer motorcycle superspreader event?

I highly recommend seeing Nomadland!

Offline perc2100

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Re: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece
« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2021, 11:05:39 AM »
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I rented out a theatre yesterday and my daughter, mom, a friend and a friend of Mom went to see Nomadland.

First of all, renting the entire theatre ($149) was probably overkill, as we only saw maybe 10 others in the lobby and maybe 4 employees, and didn't get near any other customers.  But I'm happy to put some money into the theatre so maybe it will still be there when we emerge from all this.

As far as the movie, WOW it's great!!  I always love Frances McDormand, and she is fantastic as always.  The movie is beautiful, what fabulous scenery!!  We got a kick out of seeing the Arizona sites (Quartzsite is on the way to LA, we pass thru there regularly and have bought stuff for the yard at the rock stand in the movie, and we have bells from Arcosanti on our patio  :) ).  There are so many things to discuss, from the mining jobs disappearing, to Amazon and their partial employment of so many people who need full time year-round jobs, to the way the Nomads help one another.  And what about the cute town she walked through in SD, was that Sturgis from the summer motorcycle superspreader event?

I highly recommend seeing Nomadland!
McDormand is such a wonderful actress: she can do caricature with nuance (like FARGO), as well as incredibly subtle (as she is here in NOMADLAND).  It's been amazing watching her develop as an actress over the years, ever since her debut in the Coen bros film (their debut) BLOOD SIMPLE.  Her as the star is an automatic 'must see' for me, and she never disappoints: and here, in NOMADLAND, it somehow feels she's soured to new heights of quiet subtlety!

Offline chocolateshake

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Re: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece
« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2021, 11:47:44 AM »
I watched it when it hit Hulu.  It felt more like a documentary than a movie.  Especially how I watched it which was in 10-15 min segments stretched over a couple of days.  I didn't have time to sit and watch it all the way through.  So it was kind of like watching van life youtube videos for me.  Which is exactly the way it felt.

I can relate to the lifestyle.  I've never done the van life thing but I spent years traveling around the world.  The scene at her storage locker I can totally relate to.  While walking the earth, I kept my stuff in a storage locker in the Bay Area.  Finally I decided it was time to let it go.  I asked the mgr at the storage facility if there was someway I could leave it with them.  She said that when people abandon their stuff that they charge a clean up fee but she would have a look.  She was surprised at the stuff I wanted to leave.  She expected junk.  It was not junk.  She asked if she could have it.  I said yes.  She asked me if I was sure.  I said I won't miss it.

At some point, when my current responsibilities end, I hope to hit the road again.

I think it's good that the movie shows what some migrant workers are in the US.  I think that a lot of Americans don't know.  When they hear migrant worker, they think about people from Mexico working in fields.  There are a lot of people that go from job to job living in RVs.  Many of them elderly.  The big box stores employ many of them seasonally.

Offline TardisMom

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Re: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece
« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2021, 12:26:15 PM »
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I watched it when it hit Hulu.  It felt more like a documentary than a movie.  Especially how I watched it which was in 10-15 min segments stretched over a couple of days.  I didn't have time to sit and watch it all the way through.  So it was kind of like watching van life youtube videos for me.  Which is exactly the way it felt.

Your 10-15 minute watching times are exactly why I wanted to see Nomadland in a theatre.  We watched Minari last week in our family room and it is a fantastic movie, but I didn't feel like I gave it the attention it deserves.  For WW84 I was fine with pausing it a couple times and wandering to the fridge while it played, but I wanted to see Nomadland as it is meant to be seen.  We discussed on the way home that it was great seeing it on the big screen while eating popcorn, and getting the full experience.  Each year I go see all the Oscar nominated shorts in the theatre, I'll miss that this year.  Many of the shorts I likely wouldn't sit through at home, so paying to see them in a dark theatre forces me to pay attention ;D.

Offline perc2100

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Re: NOMADLAND - some non-spoiler thoughts on a non-genre masterpiece
« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2021, 01:27:09 PM »
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I watched it when it hit Hulu.  It felt more like a documentary than a movie.  Especially how I watched it which was in 10-15 min segments stretched over a couple of days.  I didn't have time to sit and watch it all the way through.  So it was kind of like watching van life youtube videos for me.  Which is exactly the way it felt.

I can relate to the lifestyle.  I've never done the van life thing but I spent years traveling around the world.  The scene at her storage locker I can totally relate to.  While walking the earth, I kept my stuff in a storage locker in the Bay Area.  Finally I decided it was time to let it go.  I asked the mgr at the storage facility if there was someway I could leave it with them.  She said that when people abandon their stuff that they charge a clean up fee but she would have a look.  She was surprised at the stuff I wanted to leave.  She expected junk.  It was not junk.  She asked if she could have it.  I said yes.  She asked me if I was sure.  I said I won't miss it.

At some point, when my current responsibilities end, I hope to hit the road again.

I think it's good that the movie shows what some migrant workers are in the US.  I think that a lot of Americans don't know.  When they hear migrant worker, they think about people from Mexico working in fields.  There are a lot of people that go from job to job living in RVs.  Many of them elderly.  The big box stores employ many of them seasonally.

A lot of the co-stars are real-life 'nomads' (most of the cast, actually), and McDormand spent a lot of time both living out of her van (which she called 'Vanguard') & doing similar work that her character/real nomads did in the film.  Writer/director ChloĆ© Zhao did a similar thing wither her film THE RIDER, which was a fictionalized story based on real life people she met filming SONGS MY BROTHERS TAUGHT ME.  She seems really adept at bringing truth to fictional stories, which makes is really interesting to me that she's directing ETERNALS for Marvel.  Using real nomads makes me feel as an impartial viewer that a lot of stuff in the film is pretty legit, as far as the lifestyle is concerned.  That's a subset of American life I didn't really know anything about.  I knew about migrant workers a bit, as I have had students before (as has my wife) who were kids of migrant workers; they'd show up during a specific season, and then disappear when said season was finished.  I didn't see it as much teaching HS, but my wife saw it often enough when she was teaching elementary school