Combustible Celluloid
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With: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells, Derek Endres, Melissa Smith
Written by: Chloé Zhao, based on a book by Jessica Bruder
Directed by: Chloé Zhao
MPAA Rating: R for some full nudity
Running Time: 108
Date: 12/04/2020

Nomadland (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Van Haven

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following up her remarkable The Rider, director Chloe Zhao loosely adapts a non-fiction book by Jessica Bruder to create Nomadland, another movie that blends fact and fiction and takes a look at outsider culture. Because it features movie stars, Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, it's sometimes possible not to be fully immersed, to be jarred from the story, but Zhao's gentle, open-eyed direction blends things as well as anyone could ask for. McDormand plays Fern, who lives in her white van (named "Vanguard") after the death of her husband, and after her hometown was literally shuttered when the local sheetrock factory closed. (Even the town's zip code was discontinued.) She works Christmases at Amazon, sleeps in parking lots when she can, and occasionally falls in with large communities of similar wandering souls. She meets Dave (Strathairn), and though there seems to be a connection, the movie — rather than falling into a traditional romance — uses the pair to ask questions about how relationships might work in a community of loners, and when and where does one get off the road, if ever? (Note: Zhao's next film is Marvel's Eternals, and I, for one, am extremely curious to see how, and if, she can adapt her curious, realistic style to that film.)

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