Adrian Hernandez’s review published on Letterboxd:
Intimate and truthful, but I'll forget about it in a week.
This is the trouble with making films about listless people. While Francis McDormand's character Fern has some epiphanies, her lack of personal change makes it difficult to walk away from this experience satisfied. It's best to view this as a documentary or veritae film rather than a narrative. The point is to speak truths rather than give answers.
I can commend the film's open-minded portrayal of the American nomad lifestyle. As Fern points out, one could argue the 'American Dream' of home ownership entraps people to massive personal debt in order to penultimately live isolated, sedentary, house-locked lives (especially in old age). Or, as Willy Loman famously put it: "You spend a lifetime paying off a house only to have nobody left to live in it."
It's strange, in light of this, how we shame those who choose to limit their consumption and personal waste by nomading. We call them "homeless" and "destitute," yet offer people in their situations (old age, poor health, financial or personal loss) few re-routes back to city life.
Nomading, therefore, feels like the inevitable Boomer rebellion to capitalism. In order to survive, these folks dropped out of society in order to form their own rules, economy, and support network. I got the vibe many of them had also formerly been hippies, judging by generation and personality. Maybe that's just me though.
This all said, I wish "Nomadland" tackled the broader context at work here. The film dances around larger political topics, mostly having to do with the 2008 housing crisis' role in reinvigorating this subculture, but these insights are never fully developed. "Nomadland" takes a "personal is political" approach to its advocacy for this lifestyle. "Liberty" means the ability for anyone to live any way most comfortable to them without shame. Francis McDormand encounters a lot of people on the road. The only thing any of them have in common is their love of the "pioneer" spirit.
"Nomadland," at its heart, is a Western disguised as a documentary.
Also worthy to note: It's clear director Chloe Zhao cast real nomads to speak in the film, and their testimonies are outstanding and heart-breaking. While I love other films of this nature like "Into the Wild," Zhao's choice to cast real people makes her film a much more powerful experience. In all honesty, some of the real-life interviews here are more interesting than the central story.
Overall: Worth at least one watch. Honest, but could have gone deeper.