Mtume’s review published on Letterboxd:
I’m just not convinced. There is a real world here that Zhao sometimes captures but constantly undermines by the choices that are made to construct the body of the picture. It feels like she thinks if the movie captures natural landscapes, casts real actors of the environment and displays images of the decay of the working class world that we will get some read about capitalism and it’s effects on people, but the film in the end feels like a tourists peak rather than a statement from the ground.
It never sits anywhere long enough in order for us to really dive into the issue by keeping a “get to the next moment” editorial rhythm (I’m sure it’s an artistic choice by Zhao connected to how she’s sees the narrative but for me ultimately it stilted the picture rather than breathed life into it). Yes, Fern moves from place to place but she has moments of worth in each one and it never lets us see that imprint on Fern’s existence. It’s just “the next part” and that’s just not good for drama. No real catharsis can happen. It seems afraid of the politics of all of this as well. Stepping into it a few times but pulling out of it about as quick as they rolled into it. It feels like it wants to keep the film comfortable for those it might implicate as aggressors who drive this reality for those who are suffering.
I also have to say. I was just not convinced by McDormand’s performance at all. I could still see the Upper West Side Artsy liberal in her body as she “performed” with these non traditional actors Zhao surrounded her with. They frankly exposed her. They could have played with the narrative more (the idea she moved to this area from a seemingly different life was an in, but it was under-explored) but they seemed bent to use McDormand’s star power to drive it home and it just comes off as bleeding heart liberal advocacy that’s just gonna amount to lots of claps from other rich bleeding heart liberals. McDormand does all the right moves, has the look but I’m never convinced she is one of these people.
And the final thing. I find it very curious in a film where this (white) woman tours America living amongst the poor that for the HEAVY most part the only poor folks Zhao is interested in us seeing is poor whites. It’s this continuation that class issues are the domain of white people and it’s just gotten tired. I’m particularly bothered because the director is NOT white and can’t see this as a problem. Oh well...guess she knows where her bread is buttered.
I know I’ve been harsh, but the film does have some nice things (David Straitharin gives a nice performance that feels real) and there are moments well captured (that end to quickly though) but as a work I think it’s a bit of a failure. This is for the bleeding heart liberal crowd to feel like they did their good dead for the week.