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A wildly different kind of road movie, one of the best of 2020.

“See you down the Road.”  Bob Wells

Nomadland may take the Oscar for best picture, and Frances McDormand as Fern may take it for actress. If not, then you will still see an unusual movie better than most screened in 2020.

Bob Wells (see quote above) has popular YouTube segments that teach daily survival for those who have taken to the highways to survive a disinterested economy. In the fiction-verité mode, Nomadland chronicles the travels of widowed, disenfranchised Fern living in an RV and a life still ready to be lived in her ‘60’s.

Here’s a road trip with no guns or sweat (at least not in the fall, winter, or spring) and a modified happy-go-lucky attitude except for the cost of new tire or  newer RV. Fern grieves for her deceased husband by smelling his overalls and surviving best as she can now that she has no mining company to provide her with a tract home or daily food.

In the drama’s favor is the use of mostly camera-ready amateurs and pop-cult pros like Bob to take the narrative into entertaining stories and philosophies of the road. Even when Swankie reveals her cancer, she follows with a catalogue of reasons life has been good.

The real genius of this road trip is combining the blue-collar heroes with only two recognizable stars, McDormand and David Strathairn as Dave, a potential love interest for her. The feel is it’s about white blue-collar retirees surviving and finding friendship, with a couple of real actors (one a multiple Oscar winner) to anchor the aesthetics and imposing landscapes of Arizona, Nevada, South Dakota, and California. With music soft and low, we understand the characters without being manipulated.

Nomadland is at least one of the best films of the year because it chronicles road warriors tattered by a thoughtless economy but, like Swankie, still seeing the beauty in a country that fights for its dignity:

“The way I see it is that the Titanic is sinking and economic times are changing. And so my goal is to get the lifeboats out and get as many people into the lifeboats as I can.” Bob


Director: Chloe Zhao (The Rider)

Screenplay: Zhao, from Jessica Bruder

Cast: Frances McDormand (Fargo)

Run Time: 1h 48m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com


John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, is host of WCBE's programs It's Movie Time and Cinema Classics, and the podcasts Back Talk and Double Take. Contact him at johndesando52@gmail.com.