Arizona alert-the movie people filmed part of “Nomadland” in Arizona. The theme of people who have homes but not houses had to include the vast caravansi at Quartzsite, and it did. This warmly human tale follows Fern (Francis McDormand) as she picks up the fragments of her life following the death of her husband and an economic decline so harsh that the U.S. Postal Service retired her ZIP code. Now that is harsh.
She has not reached retirement age but finding work is difficult. So she hits the highway on a wing and a prayer. The film explores the grand vistas of the West while meeting interesting or at least unusual people along the way. The single thing that unites all the various people she meets is their deep and enduring niceness. The people who have their homes in vans have had the nastiness beaten out of them by the trials of their lives. People of a certain age have always had problems and disappointments that hone and polish them.
Writer/director Chloe Zhao may have been born in China but she went to school at Mount Holyoke. She has a fine eye for landscapes and an acute ear for the American language. She uses a hand held camera that fosters an immediate intimacy with her subjects.
The only other familiar face in the film is worn by David Strathairn. He has served in some one-hundred and thirty-six roles. His son Tay plays the son of his character. In fact, nearly everyone in the film seems to be a Nomad, a traveler rather than a professional actor. I think that director Zhao made a bold choice there and one that worked out very well. In one particular case, the actor (real person) quite honestly tells of her impending death in a moving moment. I wonder if the actress (real person) actually died. I think she did.
McDormand has Oscars for “Fargo” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” as well as three additional nominations. Strathairn also has an Oscar nomination. This film is short on dialog. We find out about our characters mostly by their actions. The film runs for one hour and forty-eight minutes and has a hard R rating for a really naked old person. Sometimes less is more.
“Nomadland” rates four sawblades. I give the production extra credit because the characters have noticeable flaws that do not get swept under the rug. Fern, for example, at one point berates some people for their, she thinks, immoral profession but manages to easily accept their money. The hypocrisy of the act is simply a part of Fern's personality