‘Nomadland’ or — NomadBland?

I was rather excited to be back in a cinema last night after almost a year. I was less excited about the fact the first movie I’ve be watching after such an absence would be ‘Nomadland’ (2020), a movie where I had so little empathy for any of the characters on screen (i.e. none whatsoever) that, by the end, I was starting to worry if I was maybe an out and out sociopath. Or maybe I just can’t relate to anyone who views poo-ing into a bucket as a desirable lifestyle choice. Either way, I was profoundly bored.

So ‘Nomadland’ is about… er… about? I don’t really know if it’s about anything. It’s not about the gig economy or American capitalism. It’s not about any of the people on screen as, and I’ll be frank, who cares about them (I know I didn’t)? I think it’s about dealing with grief by going camping. And that’s it.

To be fair, it is quite nicely shot although as we’re doing nothing more than watching Francis McDormand surviving in the great outdoors ‘Nomadland’ frequently feels like watching an episode of ‘Go With Noakes’ directed by Terrence Malick. And, again, that’s it.

Admittedly I’m not the target audience for this movie having zero interest in a rugged outdoor life stripped of all modern conveniences and getting my hands dirty (the only time I get oil on my hands is when I toss a salad). Indeed, my lifestyle is so refined and rarified that it would make Niles Crane puke at the levels of my rabid self-indulgence. But it’s not just that as there is also no drama here whatsoever, nothing to make me care. So I didn’t.

I also found the movie a tad insulting and patronising. Yes, McDormand’s character has a life many would find tough but look, look at those beautiful moments she gets to have, those fleeting snatches of almost transcendent bliss because she is off the grid. Yet that’s a total lie as it is promoting the myth (and it is a myth) that these moments can only come about by leaving everything behind and hitting the road. I call bullshit on that because we can, and often do, have those ineffable experiences without having to poo in a bucket.

For example — when I’m in Fopp I’m often struck dumb by the way the morning light hits and bounces off the blu ray spines, and when I visit my local cheese mongers I’m frequently in a state of divine ecstasy as I gaze at their quince selection. Yet ‘Nomadland’ seems to think that McDormand’s experiences are more worthy, more valid, of attention than mine simply because she poos in a bucket and I just don’t understand that in the slightest. And besides, McDormand is very often not in the real wilderness anyway but simply sitting on a duel carriageway hard shoulder as though she’s Henry David Thoreau hanging out at a motorway service station.

My biggest problem with ‘Nomadland’ was when I discovered why these people do it, why they keep travelling, and I thought it was a pretty silly reason and, again, a lie. They do it because (spoilers) they hope that one day they’ll meet the loved ones they have lost further down the road. So that’s it?! A vague, post New Age, fuzzy, hazy rationale is behind all this? It might seem touching but is, for me anyway, highly cloying and also completely wrong.

And talking of cloying and completely wrong, don’t get me started on the music which might be the most tedious, grating and boring score I’ve heard in years. Again, like the premise to the movie, the soundtrack is everything I detest and despise being one of those god-awful, simplistic piano scores with string quartet accompaniment because film directors often mistake string quartet and piano music as automatically being more “human”, tender and mournful when, in reality, it’s nothing more than a bland and banal four note motif/refrain (with sometimes the third and fourth notes exchanging places) but will be claimed as highly emotional because, you know, its got a violin in it. Never mind the fact it’s monotonous, repetitive, manipulative and contrived although I guess, putting it that way, it perfectly suits the visuals.

In closing though I would like to state that ‘Nomadland’ did, ultimately, inspire me and to take immediate action concerning my lifestyle as I left the cinema. It inspired me to aggressively double-down on my metropolitan, self-indulgent, big city, urban, overly sensitive, self-indulgent lifestyle big time and to never hold back on ANY form of luxury, opulence or excessive comfort. So I went home and had lobster for dinner.

Now I’m not sure if that was what Chloé Zhao expected me to take away from watching the film but I can honestly say that it was the only, and I mean ONLY, thing I had on my mind coming out of ‘Nomadland’ — I’m having lobster for dinner. I might be a sociopath but at least I have exquisite taste. Now pass me my bib and that pair of crackers.

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.