Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020)
This film is easy to love — Faye (Frances McDormand), recently widowed in a small Nevadan town ruined by the gypsum company which had owned it, buys a van and heads out into deep, marginal America, it what could be a feminist western (and clearly references The Searchers). Faye finds work in an Amazon warehouse, a burger bar, a trailer park and a sugar beet plant, along the way meeting other boomers who have lost homes and families and livid the nomad lifestyle. Many of these are based on real people, who play version of themselves — the exception being David (David Strathairn), who she meets en route and he forms a transient, tenuous, almost relationship. McDormand is in every scene — almost every shot — with only Patricia Clarkson coming close to her for this kind of unglamorous role in Hollywood. The scenes with Strathairn are especially strong.
And yet, if it dodges romance, it is romantic. Faye offers a Shakespeare sonnet for a love letter to be written by a millennial drifter to his long distance girlfriend who couldn’t possibly be interested in what he has to say and has taught Macbeth’s solilioquy to a young girl (but not very well, it seems). Other people’s words. Faye works hard and it is clear she is part of a precarious generation — a broken engine or a burst tire away from ruin. But there’s always a fairy to pay the bill. And the rugged solitude of the American west is undercut by pseudofamilies — unless those families have deep pockets.
There are times when it cuts through to the capitalist game that creates such a subculture — Faye atttacks a realtor, but the film retreats into the pioneer spirit, there’s the fragility of retirement funds, even Amazon (not to mention a fast food restaurant) look like nice places to work>
Perhaps they are.
And as she drives off into another sublime landscape, you can’t help but wonder about the carbon footprint.