Filmmaker Chloé Zhao opens Nomadland on a tight closeup of Fern’s face—a woman we might chance to meet any day of the week.  Because she is played by Frances McDormand there is no better way to establish a connection between her and us in the audience. We know she is genuine; there is no artifice here.

Fern is leaving a town so desolate (since the closing of a factory) that its zip code has been retired. She puts in time at the local Amazon warehouse, collects her pay and retreats to a modest van. She’s not homeless, she explains; she’s houseless, and there’s all the difference in the world.

Fern has learned to survive on her own since the death of her husband. She keeps to herself but has no trouble making friends at RV campsites and communities along the road. Occasionally someone will reach out to her and she pulls back, unwilling to make commitments beyond a casual friendship.

Nomadland is sort of a modern-day, existential equivalent of Walden Pond set in the American West. It’s wistful and often heartbreaking, but never because of a dramatic contrivance. The film flows naturally, organically, and carries us along to a place where honesty and satisfaction intersect. The time that author Jessica Bruder spent on the road with 21st century nomads for her book has paid off for writer-director Zhao, who adapted the screenplay. The promise she showed in The Rider three years ago is fulfilled here…with a little help from one of the finest actresses on the planet.

Nomadland is in theatres and streaming on Hulu today (Friday February 19th.)

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024