Chloé Zhao / Nomadland C/D?

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She's got the Oscar, now she's got a thread of her own.

Watched Nomadland last night and quite liked it overall. Performances were great, especially the non-actors, some beautiful cinematography, editing reminded me of some of my favourite European filmmakers, and generally happy to see a director setting their own goals and making the film they want to make rather than following a template.

Negatives: music was a bit cheesy at times, there was one moment where it was layered over some people playing live music and the two sounds clashed very badly. The Amazon scenes felt like a bit of a whitewash / PR exercise.

Not sure whether negative: how apolitical the film was, at first I thought of this as a strength, but on reflection I could see this being taken as "these people are happy with this life / it's ultimately their own choice" which is not a great moral to be putting out there.

A viking of frowns, (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Monday, 3 May 2021 17:17 (one week ago) link

I count the politics of it as a big negative. Not so much because I think Zhao had to make a political film if she didn't want to, but the film starts with a misleadingly political/socioeconomic framing, by talking about the company town that disappeared, and in the early scenes at the campground it also makes political feints, with the leader dude talking about how these people have been discarded by society, etc. And then the rest of the movie kind of relentlessly steps back from all of that until it becomes a story about individual people working through individual grief and traumas, etc. So I think the movie wants credit for a kind of political candor that it doesn't actually earn. Felt like a bit of a bait and switch to me.

I did like all the stories from the nonprofessional actors. And I always like McDormand and Strathairn, but I ultimately found their characters kind of pat and unpersuasive even though the performances are good.

I don't want to exaggerate my problems with the movie, it's well made and is one of the better Best Picture winners of recent decades. But not so much so that it doesn't feel like a Best Picture winner.

yeah your first paragraph sums up my exact feelings. the movie i wanted to see would be addressing what kind of society has driven people, specifically its elders, to this way of living?

the scene where she visits her family makes it even worse by suggesting that there was something internal about who she is as a person that would have her doing some version of this, regardless of circumstance.

call all destroyer, Monday, 3 May 2021 17:32 (one week ago) link

I enjoyed the film overall, but the Amazon stuff was either unnecessary or a ringing endorsement for their laissez-faire style of industrial relations. The nonprofessional actors did a great job

Andy the Grasshopper, Monday, 3 May 2021 17:44 (one week ago) link

It definitely felt like a conscious choice to make it a more a personal film and keep the politics stuff on the backburner. I thought that choice was made in part out of compassion to the subjects/people in this predicament, who may or may not see the "nomad" life as something that was forced upon them, rather than a lifestyle choice. It was definitely not polemical. I thought it was successful at keeping that narrative in the conversation without making a statement about it; the only part that I thought was bait-and-switchy was the text at the beginning about the plant closing and the town disappearing, that did make it sound like it was going to have a more political statement.

Lavator Shemmelpennick, Monday, 3 May 2021 18:20 (one week ago) link

I probably noted it after we all saw it, but it's the rare film we watched as a family which all of us agreed was just ... eh. Overwhelmingly I think that's due to McDormand's character and lack of (for better word) character, who spends much of the movie doing things or not doing things just, afaict, *because*. She's constantly turning down not just help but companionship, both from friends and family alike, and the film never really bothers explaining her motivation, which is left iirc pretty ambiguous. She's kind of just floating along through life (in one scene, of course, literally), taking in the golden hours sights before moving on. Which can work, and sometimes does, but I think part of the problem is her acting, to be honest. Michelle Williams in "Wendy & Lucy" carries herself with a certain sense of real desperation, but McDormand just kind of comes across a mild misanthrope, who spends too much time staring off at the horizon. I might be remembering it all wrong, because I saw it so long ago, but "Nomadland" is not one I want to see again. Whereas I put on "Wendy & Lucy" the other day and was immediately sucked into it again.

Josh in Chicago, Monday, 3 May 2021 18:31 (one week ago) link

I mostly liked this, but I think I would have loved it if the Amazon scenes were cut and they had kept Linda and Swankie around longer, they were fantastic.

I loled at a friend in a group text referring to this as "the one where Frances McDormand wins an Oscar for taking a watery shit in a bucket".

soaring skrrrtpeggios (jon /via/ chi 2.0), Monday, 3 May 2021 18:40 (one week ago) link

agree that the opening text is a red herring.

the opinions that this is whitewashing PR for amazon or w/e, i just dont feel like i saw that movie. definitley didnt end the movie thinking "wow amazon seems like a cool place to work that can accommodate my flexible lifestyle". maybe i'm overrating it but i felt like zhao seems to give us credit that we can see these people working at amazon and be smart enough to infer their circumstances and experiences without needing someone to pop onscreen Laundromat/Big Short style and do a little skit about Jeff Bezos or whatever. in the film it seems just as bleak and terrible as any other horrible factory or warehouse job. it reminds me of the people who criticized The Irishman for being anti-union or w/e. the movie just isnt about that.

nobody like my rap (One Eye Open), Monday, 3 May 2021 18:48 (one week ago) link

I think McDormand has gotten really good at playing Frances McDormand, especially in "Three Billboards"

Totally agree that Wendy & Lucy is the superior film on this topic - also the French film Vagabond which covers some of the same territory. But those films are about young drifters whereas Nomadland tries to bring in all the boomers and older Gen Xers who are either drawn in or forced to live the drifting life.

Andy the Grasshopper, Monday, 3 May 2021 18:51 (one week ago) link

The "apolitical" criticism is, to me, wrongheaded. It's looking for a different movie, one that's using characters as mouthpieces. The movie is political. But it's not a paper, it's an intimitate character piece. These characters are mostly real and often speaking about their realities in their own words. They're not shoehorned into serving simple arguments. It's art. The things shown are enough to form its own commentary, naturally, about a failed system. Some faith in moviegoers, please.

Zhao said this in a post-Oscar interview:

I think by humanizing these characters, and making their stories universal, it will hopefully make the audience relate with them first, emotionally. And then ask the question you did: Why are they in that situation? You don’t just intellectually think about it, but you’re emotionally invested in it. And, obviously, in a capitalist economy, if you don’t contribute to the survival of the economy, you are disposable.

And how by "having made three films the way we did, by just telling human stories" - the points are made.

One way Zhao is good at telling human stories is by allowing the character's perspectives to steer the emotional narrative. In The Rider, the main character's dream is dead. But he and we are allowed to find beauty in his dreams, even as the movie also tells a very clear story of a lack of ways out of narrow way of life, a limiting idea of a male cowboy's place in the world. At the end of the movie, the characters don't wrap it up by saying "gosh, we get it now" - it ends with his buddy saying "don't give up your dream". It's a meaningful, real moment, but also a hope we and the movie recognize is false. But the movie's the stronger for not spelling it out. In Nomadland, there's hope and joy in cameraderie and even in tired maxims about life - it's true to the characters, as much as the limitations and downsides to that life are bleedingly obvious. Hopes, dreams, cliches can ring true and be beautiful even when they're materially empty - through the eyes of characters who cling to them when they need to. That's not a movie romanticizing a predicament caused by the system's failure.

abcfsk, Monday, 3 May 2021 18:56 (one week ago) link

The family dynamic was plausible. The conversation with the sis was refreshingly matter-of-fact.

The politics a-swirl around Amazon weren't noticeable to me, nor did I think the film aspired to apolitical-ness.

I liked it at the time and it's one of the more respectable Best Picture winners in recent years.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 3 May 2021 18:59 (one week ago) link

I think by humanizing these characters, and making their stories universa

This is wrong, though. By drawing characters as specific people you universalize them, at least I think so.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 3 May 2021 19:00 (one week ago) link

I do recommend Vagabond, by the way, if y'all haven't seen it. It's not superior, just a diff take on similar material: like Change earning disco #1s with Chic's sound.

She's constantly turning down not just help but companionship, both from friends and family alike, and the film never really bothers explaining her motivation, which is left iirc pretty ambiguous. She's kind of just floating along through life (in one scene, of course, literally), taking in the golden hours sights before moving on.

But we know people like this, and motivations we impose never quite make sense.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 3 May 2021 19:02 (one week ago) link

By drawing characters as specific people you universalize them, at least I think so.

That's what she's saying, isnt 'it?

abcfsk, Monday, 3 May 2021 19:03 (one week ago) link

We do know people like this, I agree. I just didn't ultimately find either Fern or the Strathairn character all that plausible. They felt cooked up by the plot — in a way that the "real" nomads obviously didn't, even though they were presumably fictionalized to some degree too.

That's what she's saying, isnt 'it?

― abcfsk,

Is she? It looks to me like she said she wants to make the story universal. I don't think one sets out to universalize experience; if the people and scenarios are as local and narrow as possible, it's easier to see yourself. That's the paradox.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 3 May 2021 19:06 (one week ago) link

xp tbh the only character who felt movie-fakey to me was the oldtimey crustpunk banjo kid who said things like "i 'xpect i cant rightly say" but i assume he was one of the 'real' nomad nonactors

nobody like my rap (One Eye Open), Monday, 3 May 2021 19:11 (one week ago) link

xp I think she says that by telling these individual human stories it becomes universal.

abcfsk, Monday, 3 May 2021 19:11 (one week ago) link

ah, gotcha

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 3 May 2021 19:13 (one week ago) link

agreed that the opening was a bit of a red herring, I suppose the rest if the film was engaging enough for that not to matter.

thought mcdormand was very good, I liked the lack of detail about her motivation, think that was one of the film's strengths, Oscar bait movies always seem to spell everything out.

the amazon stuff was overwhelmingly positive, the chummy team talk, the friendly lunch and "the money's really good" and that's all we see? I think there is a moral compromise with a despicable corporation and they've come off better, and that just leaves a bad taste.

my wife thought a good point of comparison was Ken Loach's Sorry We Missed You, she says that Nomadland and similar films (intentionally or not) function as a comfort to rich western liberals who don't want to feel guilty about the injustices perpetrated on the downtrodden in society. I agree but I also can see what Zhao was intending as per the quote above.

should remember that Zhao is from a very rich establisment family in China and went to exclusive private schools in the UK and US, she is unlikely to be a vocal campaigner for structural change.

A viking of frowns, (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Monday, 3 May 2021 19:14 (one week ago) link

David Strathairn's appearance was my oh-you-fake moment. We've reached a point where Strathairn has star power, and for a few minutes it upended the picture.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 3 May 2021 19:14 (one week ago) link

Sorry We Missed You is far angrier than Nomadland, though, and he doesn't mind making characters mouthpieces. I find that refreshing too.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 3 May 2021 19:15 (one week ago) link

I liked what Brady Jandreau, the non-professional actor from The Rider, had to say about her themes of loss, displacement, and self-alienation.

“I would say ‘Songs,’ ‘The Rider’ and ‘Nomadland’ all capture the feeling of being a part of something, whether it’s something solid that you can see or something that makes you feel comfortable. After my head injury, not being able to do what I did and be who I was, I didn’t even feel comfortable in my own skin,” Jandreau said. “I feel like a lot of the scenes in ‘Nomadland’ and ‘Songs’ also capture that same feeling and being able to overcome that and be comfortable again, just as best as you can be.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2021-04-24/chloe-zhao-movies-nomadland-director-non-actors

Dan S, Monday, 3 May 2021 19:29 (one week ago) link

Agree with everyone above citing the lack of clear motivation for Fern's actions as a strength rather than a drawback. It ties in with keeping the politics in the background, in that real human beings who get screwed over by big systems don't always see their life through that lens. We all have to rationalize how we ended up where we are and the decisions that we make every day. For that fictional character and I imagine a lot of the real nomads and non-actors, would they like to have a nice nest egg and be living a comfortable retirement? Probably, at least for many of them. But they're not, and their identities are dynamic and constantly being made by the life that they are living. Even though it doesn't exactly come across as an ecstatic or cherished experience for her, Fern seems to see this nomadic life as a part of who she is, and a choice that she is making, even if no other choice is being presented to her. I thought the final scenes where she goes back to her old house, esp in combination with her other decisions and actions throughout the movie, nicely showed the cognitive dissonance that she lives with.

Strathairn's character was definitely less believable, just in that he seemed so debonair and well-adjusted. Maybe it is just the movie star gravitas? But his whole exit from nomadism seemed a little too easy and available. I wonder if there were more scenes of his reconciliation with his family that got cut.

Lavator Shemmelpennick, Monday, 3 May 2021 19:41 (one week ago) link

After my head injury, not being able to do what I did and be who I was, I didn’t even feel comfortable in my own skin,” Jandreau said. “I feel like a lot of the scenes in ‘Nomadland’ and ‘Songs’ also capture that same feeling and being able to overcome that and be comfortable again, just as best as you can be.”

For whatever reason, I feel like The Sound of Metal captured this a little better.

Andy the Grasshopper, Monday, 3 May 2021 19:44 (one week ago) link

Reading this thread and thinking back on all the discussion this film has elicited in The Online Discourse lately reminds me of the reason I'm not interested in seeing Nomadland: I saw American Honey on election night 2016 and I'm still recovering from that viewing.

Legalize Suburban Benches (Raymond Cummings), Monday, 3 May 2021 20:50 (one week ago) link

I think I had problems with the lack of motivation because Fern is contrasted with people with more explicitly identified problems or challenges, be they family history/estrangement/tragedy, or employment or health or whatever. And then we have her, who comes across as ... not an interloper, exactly, but an odd enough situation that, per Zhao, I really did want to know "Why are they in that situation?" I suppose she (as both star and Moviestar) provide us, the viewer, an entry into this world, but in that regard I think I'd rather have seen a documentary, or read the book.

Josh in Chicago, Monday, 3 May 2021 21:00 (one week ago) link

xp I haven't seen American Honey because I have no desire to spend two hours with Shia LaBeouf.

A viking of frowns, (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Monday, 3 May 2021 21:01 (one week ago) link

Camaraderie: Fair enough.

(When I say "recover" it has nothing to do with the performances. Everybody in AH was good to great. The movie was just emotionally cratering, a glimpse into a country falling apart and those who will inherit it.)

Legalize Suburban Benches (Raymond Cummings), Monday, 3 May 2021 21:03 (one week ago) link

Well, Nomadland isn't that. It's a glimpse into a country maybe/sort-of falling apart, though who can really say, but with lots of good folks and places to park (and oddly available healthcare) for people who choose to express their individuality by being homeless.

don't understand the comments about lack of motivation. The events in her history that motivated Fern became increasingly clear throughout the movie, and the way they were revealed was one of the really nice things about the film, and the main reason why I liked it

Dan S, Monday, 3 May 2021 22:02 (one week ago) link

agree that the music was the least compelling part of it. felt the same way with The Rider

Dan S, Monday, 3 May 2021 22:03 (one week ago) link

I have uploaded a sample of the clumsy sound mixing, quality could be better but you'll get the idea

https://vocaroo.com/1nFzDhakb3Aq

A viking of frowns, (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Monday, 3 May 2021 22:26 (one week ago) link


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