Wednesday, October 4, 2023

“Nomadland” Movie Review: A Modern Western


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Story by Ethan Pickering / Contributing Writer

Photos by Indie Wire, Variety

After its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September, the critically acclaimed drama “Nomadland” was released on Hulu and a few theatres on Friday.

How did it hold up in this modern age of movies being sent almost straight to streaming platforms?

Seemingly pretty well, as many critics have given the movie good reviews, placing it high among the top movies of 2020.

Released by Scorchlight Pictures, the film was only screened in 1,175 theatres worldwide on its opening weekend, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was released on Hulu in tandem with its limited theatric release.

Directed, written, and edited by Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao, the movie is based on a book of the same name by Jessica Bruder published in 2017.

It stars, and was subsequently produced by, Frances McDormand who plays the lead character of Fern.

Fern is an aging widow who loses her job at a drywall manufacturing plant in Nevada in 2011. She sells most of her possessions and decides to leave her dying town and live life on the road, touring the American west in a van.

Frances McDormand in the film “Nomadland.” Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

The rest of the movie is a chronicle of her adventure and struggles across the western United States. She ends up meeting a lot more modern-day nomads like herself and takes a variety of warehouse and manual labor jobs as she moves about from place to place. 

Fern has to deal with environmental and emotional grief throughout her journey. She struggles financially through the whole film, not being able to live off government supplemented retirement. She also has the task of keeping up with her aging van as she travels.

She meets up with a group of like-minded nomads on public land in Arizona annually to catch up with old friends.

Though the film is a gritty drama, the events that take place through the course of the story do not seem overtly fictionalized, even though the movie and book are not based on a true story.

The theme of a ‘western’ set in modern America is certainly a nontraditional theme. It is not a typical western by design, but more of a subtle one. The backdrops are always gorgeous and the places Fern travels through are very stylistic of western films from the past.

Some of the other nomadic characters in the film are played by actors who really led (and are still leading) similar lives themselves. This added a surprising amount of authenticity to their roles.

Overall, the film was a well-produced and well-acted journey of the modern American west. It made you feel like you were along for the ride with Fern in all of her emotional and physical challenges, and the beautiful and sweet moments as well. Its slow-burning moments made way for some great drama, grit, and style that carried this ‘neo-western’ film and tied it to adventure and the universal human condition.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Ashley Barrientos, email

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