Some might dismiss films as fluff. An art form that is merely for entertainment. Not true! It is a visual medium which can educate, illustrate and be a vital form of expression. Though it is not perfect of late it has opened up a little allowing voices which previously had been silenced. Don’t discount the importance of seeing yourself up on the big screen.
Films like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians were the biggest examples of that. They signaled a change. An indication that there is a recognition that different stories warrant being told. Demonstrating that these films can make money…a lot of it.
Still a whole section of the world was not getting to tell their stories. Stories which were judged as not important or relatable. Then comes actors like Frances McDormand and directors like Chloe Zhao. Though Zhao is early in her career having only directed Songs My Brother Told Me and The Rider previous to this one. The 38-year-old native of China has already made her mark. Managing to do so her way. She writes and directs her films. These are the stories she wants to tell. Small films with punch.
McDormand has built up an impressive career portraying characters who are classified as oddballs and starring in films which are most certainly not mainstream. For the rare Transformers: Dark of the Moon (the only film on her CV which you could say is mainstream) there are many more like Moonrise Kingdom, Fargo and Burn After Reading.
This is a film which will not attract hordes of people to the theatre (not that any movie is of late due to the circumstances). Though it is a film which I wish many would see. A quiet, slow, but profound film. Telling the story of one 60-something woman who is alone in life living a kind of life many would see as undesirable. Needed that we show lives lived differently. Not only people involved in a capitalist driving, consumerism style of living.
Fern (Frances McDormand) lived and worked in the company town of Empire, Nevada. Things come crashing down for her when her husband dies and the town becomes a ghost town after the factory closes down due to the Great Recession in the United States.
Instead of finding another factory job and living a traditional life, Fern packs a few things into a modified van she has dubbed Vanguard and hits the road. She is going to find seasonal or temporary jobs to make some money, but basically she is going to live on the road or in van parks. A modern day nomad. Rejecting a traditional life.
While Zhao has constructed the bones of the film, the skin and heart of it is without a doubt McDormand. Another great performance to add to an already impressive list. The Oscar winner never disappoints. She takes on a role and inhabits her characters to an extent which you cannot imagine anyone else portraying them. Should garner another Oscar nomination for her.
A road film which gives the viewer exquisitely beautiful visuals of the American West. The beauty of the sparse nature featured in much of that part of the country. Not only authentic in how it looks, but in tone. This is a rare Americana film…from a Chinese director.
Beautiful, intimate and at times quite moving. A film that is firing on all pistons. One of 2020’s best and a reminder of why I love films.