by Tom Warner Best & Next Department
Nomadland swept the Oscars this year, winning awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Chloe Zhao – the first woman of color and of Asian descent and only the second woman ever to win the award) and Best Actress (Frances McDormand). Loosely adapted from journalist Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book – which documented how a devastating global recession transformed old-fashioned “company towns” into ghost towns and created a new class of elderly transient workers – director Chloe Zhao’s film version uses the fictional character “Fern” to represent this real-life diaspora. Shortly after the death of her husband, with whom she lived in the now-shut-down mining town of Empire, NV, Fern loads up a van that is now her home and hits what Robert Frost famously called “the road less traveled,” taking an itinerant journey of healing across the American West. Along the way she encounters many of the real nomads who first appeared in Bruder’s book, here playing themselves. Their appearance is important because, though Fern’s journey is financially-driven, not everybody hits the road for economic reasons. For many, the challenging lifestyle is a choice and their road leads to a place where they can enjoy both solitude and community.
Nomadland is currently streaming only on Hulu and Disney+, so unless you have a subscription you’ll just have to wait until the DVD eventually comes out to see it. In the meantime, you can use your Pratt library card to check out two rare documentaries in the Best & Next Department’s video collection (yes, we still have video tapes!), Loners on Wheels and Roam Sweet Home, which complement the subject matter of Nomadland as they chronicle the lives of non-conventional seniors choosing to spend their golden years living on the road. While Zhao’s docudrama utilized the star power of Frances McDormand (and co-star David Straithorn) to tell a compelling story about societal drop-outs surviving economic and emotional hardship, the offbeat characters inhabiting these two small-budget films from the ‘90s are even more fascinating and their personalities and stories will hold your attention every bit as much as Hollywood stars like McDormand and Straithorn.