What people do when they get older varies immeasurably, depending on family, circumstances, personal preference, and many other reasons. That there is a group of oldsters who travel around—mostly in vans and RVs—is new to me, as probably for most of us. Some are facing the end of life and want to make the most of it, while others seem not to be thinking about an ending date at all. Fran (McDormand) is one of them and a bit of a mystery, but we discover a lot about her as the story wends its way. Her husband has died, the town she lived in lost its industry—taking her job with it—during an economic recession—and with a wandering spirit, Fran decides to outfit her van and take to the road.
Nomadland is the story of the people she meets along the way, but it’s also a picture book of all the breathtaking vistas she gazes out on as she travels the American upper Midwest—Nevada, South Dakota, Nebraska, California, and Arizona. Cinematographer Joshua James Richards captures the colorful sunsets, the hills of the Badlands in South Dakota, and much more, along with the wizened, expressive faces of people coming from all kinds of different histories and current circumstances. He deserves aThe music supplied by Ludovico Einaudi enhances all these scenes with melodic—sometimes haunting—strains. His piano music is especially pleasing.
Nomadlandis just as much a character story as a travelogue. Fran is a complex mix of thoughtfulness and kindness—no one is a stranger for long with her—and a near-fierce self-sufficiency and independence. She has plenty of welcoming opportunities to stay put, but a pressing need keeps her moving on. We don’t learn a lot about her early life; she reflects on it at times and relates a bit about it, and her sister provides more information, but we see little of her core and reflections about her present. I think the film could have put in more of her past to give us a better idea of how she came to be the way she is.
With her usual expertise, Frances McDormand embodies Fran so well, she comes across as a real person and someone we would all enjoy meeting. She will certainly be considered during awards time for this performance. It’s impressive how well the actual people found on the road enlisted to be in this film played their parts. Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Gay DeForest, Patricia Grier, Bob Wells, and many others are applauded for their willingness to be filmed and managing to come across as themselves. What we see loud and clear is the increasing tolerance for others and their opinions that people seem to gain as they age and become wiser.
Nomadland is not likely to appeal to everyone, but for those who contemplate their later years, it provides some reassurance that everything should be just fine, provided, of course, the world stays reasonably stable.
A different look at the elder years from what we’re used to, Nomadland provides a pleasant journey into what it might—and what we hope—will be.
Grade: B By Donna R. Copeland