Movieman630’s review published on Letterboxd:
Nomadland often feels more like a documentary than a narrative feature. Of course, the presence of Frances McDormand and David Strathairn occasionally interrupts this, but most of the film just feels like a documentary following Nomads in the modern American plains. Of course, a huge part of this is due to the casting of actual nomads as most of the supporting characters. Though none of these are professional actors, they all are able to channel their true life experiences into delivering incredibly realistic performances.
It's also a huge credit to McDormand and Strathairn that they are able to keep up with this. They add to the very naturalistic feel of the film. A few scenes that just follow the two of them feel more "written" but for the most part the immersion is kept.
This feel all comes together to create a true sense of what these people have gone through in their lives. Though all the characters share a desire to turn away from capitalism and modern society, most of them also have darknesses in their backstory. They are people who have been betrayed by a culture that values productivity over all else. Though the film is primarily a slice of life story following one of these people, this message comes through loud and clear through the characters frank discussions of the traumas and troubles of their lives.
Chloe Zhao's directing of this film is impeccable. She is able to create a true sense of life. There is boredom, struggle, levity, pain, often all at the same time. The cinematography beautifully captures the openness of the American wilds, and contrasts it very will with the areas of human civilization.
Nomadland achieves it's larger goals by focusing on its smaller ones. It is a film of minutae, all perfectly adding up to a painful, beautiful whole