Recently, Frances McDormand won her third Academy Award for best actress. After winning in 1997 and 2021, McDormand deeply impressed the Academy with her performance in “Nomadland.” Although “Nomadland” impressed quite a few critics, a lot of people considered this film a long shot when it came to the Academy Awards. When this film won the award for Best Picture, it shattered many expectations. The stunning success of this film is a testament to the Academy’s apparent willingness to take chances. After the controversy surrounding “Green Book,” the Academy has apparently taken the advice of critics to heart. Hopefully, the Academy will continue rewarding contemporary-focused films that address pressing sociopolitical issues.
In “Nomadland,” director Chloe Zhao has given us a film that directly addresses the reality of living in America without roots or resources. McDormand plays Fern, a woman who her loses the job and and starts living in a ramshackle van. With no definite plan, Fern hits the open road and tries to a new purpose and identity for herself.
As she travels across the nation, Fern meets a number of other people living the same nomadic lifestyle. While some live this life by choice, most seem to be driven to nomad life by difficult circumstances. Many of these other characters are played by real-life homeless people. Although this is a fictional film, it is based on a nonfiction book. Fittingly, the film has a look and feel that is reminiscent of a documentary.
Though Zhao is a fairly inexperienced director, “Nomadland” shows that Zhao is already quite confident in her craft. Based on this showing, it is likely that Zhao will receive quite a few opportunities to ply her trade in the future. Hollywood needs more young directors that are willing to take risks in the service of a great story. Though fictional, this film speaks to hard truths about the lives of people on the fringes of American life.
As usual, McDormand brings incredible gravitas to her role. McDormand has always had a way of conveying a lot with one look of her weathered face. Since the days of her legendary performance in Fargo, McDormand has excelled at imbuing troubled characters with empathetic qualities. When “Nomadland” won the Best Picture Oscar, this showed that the Academy was starting to look beyond stuffy historical dramas and didactic message movies. This film has the potential to help its producers maintain outstanding careers for a long time to come.