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Critics on Nomadland: 'This Film Is a Small Miracle'

Frances McDormand shines in this 'ecstatic hymn to the ties that bind us'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 19, 2021 9:20 AM CST

(Newser) – A widow takes to the open road in the wake of the Great Recession in Nomadland, the Golden Globe-nominated film considered a frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar. In case that's not enough of an indication of how critics are receiving it, the film streaming Friday on Hulu—based on Jessica Bruder's nonfiction book of the same name, from writer-director Chloe Zhao—has a 94% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Four takes:

  • The film gets the honor of "Critic's Pick" from the New York Times' AO Scott. Star Frances McDormand's "grit, empathy and discipline have never been so powerfully evident" as she lends support to real vagabonds "playing versions of themselves," writes Scott. "It's hard to describe the mixture of sadness, wonder and gratitude that you feel in their company," he adds. "It's like discovering a new country, one you may want to visit more than once."
  • "This film is a small miracle and a uniquely meditative experience," writes AP critic Lindsay Behr, who named Nomadland her top film of 2020. (It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, winning the People's Choice award.) "McDormand disappears into Fern, which is no small accomplishment for an actor as recognizable as she is." We hear little from her—there's no "show-stopping monologue railing against the system." But "for the most part, this is a film full of kind souls," Behr adds. "They're just not the ones we’re used to seeing on film."

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  • "Economic anxiety is a major theme" of the film, which "speaks to both the promise and the lie of a uniquely American mythos," reads Angie Han's September review at Mashable. It "does not shy away from the harder details of Fern's life" but it also "savors moments of joy" and "you may find yourself moved to tears or to ecstasy by the poetry of its images." In fact, "Nomadland might be enough to make you yearn to hit the open road yourself, and get lost in the wilderness so you can be found again."
  • At the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday gives the film four stars out of five. "Under Zhao's assured hand, what starts as a tone poem to the idiosyncratic urges that drive us swells into an ecstatic hymn to the ties that bind us," she writes. It's a "visually lush, emotionally complex journey," in which "McDormand holds the camera with an utterly disarming combination of self-effacement and command."
(Read more movie review stories.)

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