THE MOVIE GUY — The quiet dignity of “Nomadland”

Published 12:02 am Friday, February 19, 2021


Highwayman Films

Directed by Chloé Zhao

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Starring Frances McDormand, David Strathairn and Linda May

Rated R


3 ½ Stars


Frances McDormand has won a Tony, two Emmy Awards and two Oscars for Best Actress. That’s quite a career already, and now she turns in what may very well be her best performance yet in the quietly contemplative film, “Nomadland.”

McDormand plays Fern, a woman who suddenly finds herself uprooted after the death of her husband and the closing of the plant where she works. She tries finding new employment, but a social worker lets her know that she doesn’t have any real skills. She’s all but forced to start living out of her van.

What seems like a desperate situation takes on a hopeful note as Fern finds a community among the modern-day nomads who drift across the country in their cars and RVs. As she tells one friend, she’s not going to be homeless, just house-less. It’s a difficult, poverty-level existence, but one that will offer unexpected opportunities for community.

Many will find this to be a sad story. On the surface, the focus is on the people left behind by our consumer driven society. Look deeper and you’ll find that “Nomadland” strikes a genuine grace note in giving us a portrait of a woman who has lost everything but manages to find her own sense of dignity out in the wastelands of the American West.

Credit McDormand for her stripped-down performance that lays her soul bare. She’s a woman who is doggedly pursuing an atypical sense of family among a band of lovable American misfits.

It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty moving stuff.

More credit goes to director Chloé Zhao, in her third low-budget film that examines the people and cultures seemingly left-behind by society. There’s an underlying political statement to be made in her films, but Zhao prefers to introduce you to her characters and let you find your own political messages if you must.

Finally, credit the cinematography that places the characters against the wide-open vistas of the American West. The film is frequently gorgeous, especially for anyone who enjoys spending time in the great outdoors.

I’m a bit surprised by how much “Nomadland” moved me. This is not the type of film that generally captures my fancy. Yet for some reason, this is the film that has been most stuck in my head since I first was it in early October. It’s been a good year for movies, but this is my pick as the best film of 2020.

I’m not alone, as most pundits have named “Nomadland” the frontrunner for this year’s Best Picture Oscar. You can judge for yourself this weekend as “Nomadland” plays in theaters and streams on Hulu.


Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Port Arthur Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at