Chloé Zhao directs Frances McDormand, David Strathairn and Linda May in this road movie exploring a section of America’s ageing population who tramp in camper vans, travelling to and from seasonal jobs and communal campsites with no fixed address.
Often a very beautiful and affecting piece of cinema but not something that you’d rush to rewatch with any regularity. I’m all for a sincere light being shone on the financial dispossessed and this feels in direct conflict with those unquestioned upper middle class values of nearly all of Hollywood cinema. Watching Oscar winner McDormand shit in a bucket or be moved on from a deserted car park at night, one is reminded of the vanishing freedoms of Lonely Are The Brave or Easy Rider… and further back to a sub genre of movies about American diasporas, the economic refugees in adaptations of Steinbeck and London. I’ve read two criticisms of the film, one I disagree with, the other I don’t. Does Amazon get off lightly? I think it is just left wisely uncommented upon by Zhao that the warehouse gig Amazon offer the ageing camperforce is work just as menial and labour intensive as the deep fat fryers, beet harvest and toilet cleaning we see McDormand also do. None of these jobs are unionised, glamourised, interested in developing their temporary employees… Amazon by association is just a better lit, better branded modern equivalent of graft you wouldn’t want to see your grandmother doing. The other condemnation rings slightly truer. As good as McDormand is in the central role (and I wouldn’t want to see anyone else cast) there are moments when you do feel a well off actress is cosplaying poverty among the genuinely itinerant. It only occasionally occurs but I wonder how the people who lives this tough life out of a mixture of choice and lack of economic options feel when a Hollywood star wanders around their campsite with sparklers and a gormless grin on her face, telling them to enjoy life? All in all though, this much needed alternative look at the US landscape is the most palatable of the weaker Oscar crop I’ve seen so far this year.
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