There was a lack of movies released in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this scarcity made the first few movies released in 2021 somewhat revered. “Nomadland,” released Feb. 19, 2021, is no exception. The movie was anxiously awaited by both critics and casual watchers combined and in terms of quality, it exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for entertainment value.
“Nomadland,” directed by Chloѐ Zhao and based on Jessica Bruder’s book by the same name, follows the story of Fern (Frances McDormand). Fern is a widowed woman in her 60’s left as a nomad following the collapse of her hometown, Empire, Nevada. The town dissolved because the U.S. Gypsum plant shut down, leaving citizens out of work, and causing them to move away. This loss hit Fern hard, especially combined with the death of her husband, and she was left wandering around the west. The goal seems to be to show her growth and how she moves on from these tragedies, but the way this was done left something to be desired.
Aesthetically, the movie is wonderful. The sound design fits the theme and setting incredibly well, with long periods of silence accompanying somber atmospheres and cheerful background music with more lighthearted scenes. There was a distinct lack of dialogue, with most of the character interactions just a few sentences at a time. A lot of imagery was employed to balance this, such as the color of scenes being drab when Fern feels hopeless and brighter when she feels companionship or freedom. While this worked well here, it didn’t in other areas.
Which comes back to the plot, or the absence of one. It’s easy to sing to the heavens about how well-crafted “Nomadland“ is, but the truth is simply that the movie is boring. It’s almost two hours long, and for most of that time, viewers are wondering when something is supposed to happen. This is not to say that the ‘slice of life’ idea behind can’t work, it’s just that it didn’t work well here.
“Nomadland” is an artistic movie and in that regard, it excels. However, it’s just not worth watching, unless it’s for a critique or to learn from the cinematography. What happens is predictable, and the plot progresses like a series of scattered photographs rather than any interesting storyline. “Nomadland” is available on Hulu, and won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, so to each their own.