A woman living out of her van travels the country in search of inner peace in this lovely collection of moments anchored by Frances McDormand’s performance.
The film opens with two titles explaining that there was a factory town in Empire Nevada. The factory shut down in 2011, and within six months the town was empty and their post code was discontinued.
The film follows Frances McDormand as Fern. She travels all over the country, living out of her van, and taking any work she can find. Along the way she encounters challenges and makes friends and comes to terms with the life she used to have.
This movie is difficult to describe because there is no plot. It’s really just a collection of vignettes. Brief moments that add up to a whole experience. It is made up of incredibly short scenes. One scene involves Fern working a job cleaning a bathroom. A guy enters. She says it’s closed. He ignores her and uses the urinal next to her. She rolls her eyes and walks out. That’s the whole scene. On its own it’s nothing, and honestly a lot of the movie is forgettable to me because of that. While not much on their own these tiny little moments do add up to an experience that is felt more than anything.
Frances McDormand does good work, but she’s up against real people. she’s striving for authenticity where the rest of the inhabitants of the movie are authentic people. It often feels like an actress has stepped into a documentary about nomads.
There is only one truly dramatic moment. It comes at the 55 minute mark. I know because I had a strong emotional reaction. My heart stopped, and my stomach sank. It came out of nowhere which is why I checked the time. The funny thing about it is that in any other movie it wouldn’t have been anything. But because of the way this movie works it really hit me.
The movie feels as if it was assembled from deleted bits of a different movie. Like they shot a and edited more traditional film, then took all the bits they cut out of that film, and put them together to make this one. I kept saying to myself “there should be more to that scene” and “they cut away too soon.” Especially toward the end where the film is building to its conclusion and ultimate thematic point. I wish it had given us more.
This movie is a quiet collection of tiny moments that add up to a picture of a lifestyle. If that sounds like your cup of tea then please give it a watch on Hulu or in theaters. If it’s not what you’re into then it’s going to be a challenging viewing experience.
For me this type of movie isn’t my cup of tea. They’re usually too artsy and self important. This one worked better for me than most. I give credit to the director Chloe Zhao for weaving it together. That said it’s only like have a cup of tea for me. B
It’s just been nominated for a slew of Golden Globes. You’ll be hearing about this one all through awards season.