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By Megan Bianco

It feels strange to say, but in many ways, the fact that filmmaker Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland was released in the middle of the pandemic last December might have been the best thing to happen to the indie drama.

In any other fall movie awards season, it most likely would have been buried beyond the usual critic groups who branch outside of the mainstream. But in a year in which most of the supposedly good movies are still in production, Zhao and Frances McDormand, the film’s lead star and producer, have a big chance of Oscar glory.

McDormand is showcased once again as the center of Nomadland, playing a fictional widowed nomad named Fern. When the Nevada local loses both her job and husband in 2011 amidst the recession, she chooses to live out of a van roaming Middle America on her own, getting by taking odd jobs. While on the road, Fern discovers many other middle-aged and elderly people also living in vans, just like herself.

Photo: Courtesy of Joshua James Richards/20th Century Studios

Nomadland is one of those indie movies that effectively features two famous actors—McDormand and David Straitharn—while the rest of the cast members are complete newcomers (in this case, real-life nomads).

McDormand and Straitharn are experienced and talented enough to not seem out of place in the camping scenes with the locals, with the former also carrying the nature sequences all on her own.

Zhao does double duty as both the film’s director and editor next to some gorgeous, natural cinematography from Joshua James Richards and a pretty simple music score by Ludovico Einaudi.

One thing I did find a little amusing is that at the beginning of the movie, Fern works part-time for Amazon. In contrast, Nomadland is produced by Fox Searchlight Pictures and distributed through Hulu for streaming, even though the shopping company isn’t portrayed particularly negatively.

Whatever the case, Nomadland is one for film fans who appreciate intuitive acting and atmospheric direction.

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