Nomadland

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Nomadland Movie Poster Image
 Popular with kidsParents recommend
Poignant, beautifully performed drama has mature themes.
  • R
  • 2021
  • 108 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 14 reviews

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Stands out for positive role models.

Positive Messages

Makes it clear that you don't necessarily need a physical house to have a home -- that people and places and even a car can be "home." Strong emphasis on found families who help one another through difficult times, on benefits of self-sufficiency, travel, working just enough to live, not living to work.

Positive Role Models

While the nomads may not seem like role models, they're courageous and curious, and they help one another, trading everything from supplies to advice. Fern is intelligent, direct, determined. Dave is kind and generous. Linda, Bob, and the other people on the road are generous, self-sufficient, hard-working. 

Violence

A few conversations about death by suicide, terminal illness, possibility of death with dignity. A taser is displayed at a marketplace. A character dies (off-camera) and is memorialized (on-camera). Two scatological moments: Fern relieves herself outdoors, and another time she's sick and has to go immediately on top of a bucket inside her van.

Sex

Nonsexual nudity when Fern floats in the water (breasts, abdomen, genitals, legs). A couple dances and hugs.

Language

Occasional language includes "s--t," "Jesus Christ," "oh my God," "bitches," etc.

Consumerism

Amazon is featured prominently.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink beer and wine at a bar or at a dinner. A couple of characters smoke cigarettes; one smokes a cigar. One character discusses AA meetings.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nomadland is writer-director Chloé Zhao's intimate drama starring Frances McDormand as Fern, an unemployed widow who joins a growing movement of older adults who live out of cars, vans, and RVs and do seasonal work across the country. It has mature themes about loneliness, financial instability, and restlessness, but it's also uplifting and hopeful. There's a beauty in the traveling and a sense that hard work should be valued, whatever that work might look like. One scene includes nonsexual nudity as Fern bathes in a lake, and in two other brief scenes, she uses either the outdoors or a bucket to relieve herself. The camera doesn't shy away from these personal moments. A few conversations include references to death, suicide, terminal illness, and depression, as well as the inability to live in one place after having a home on wheels/on the road. Families with older teens will have plenty to discuss after seeing the film -- from the nomadic lifestyle to the decline of American factory towns to the appeal of the open road.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySherrylynn70 February 27, 2021

Ridiculous that this movie is rated R

Ridiculous that this movie is rated R!

There are so many things we come across in our day-to-day lives even in regular commercials on TV their farm worse than... Continue reading
Adult Written byGail RS April 26, 2021

Some Mature Themes, But Fine for Teens

Based on CSM reviews, we watched this with our 13 year old, and he thought it was fine for his age, and we were comfortable having him watch it. My 11 year old... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bySpiderman178 April 30, 2021

Amazing movie!

This movie is absolutly beautiful! The realisation is amazing, there are lots of impressive shots. Interesting for anyone who's a movie lover.

This movie... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bySeagulls19 April 9, 2021

A stunning, moving portrait of humanity

This film really moved me. The way that it tells this story of a woman who lost everything, only to find more, is a really beautiful look at life in general. It... Continue reading

What's the story?

When writer-director Chloé Zhao's NOMADLAND begins, audiences learn that, in 2011, the United States Gypsum Corporation closed its mine in the company town of Empire, Nevada. This decision essentially closed the town, forcing hundreds of families to leave. Fern (Frances McDormand) is a child-free widow who decides to renovate a commercial van into an RV and begin a nomadic lifestyle of living out of her car and taking short-term, seasonal work across the western half of the United States. During a decent-paying gig at an Amazon fulfillment center, Fern meets veteran road nomads like Linda May (playing herself), who encourages Fern to join Cheap RV Living YouTuber Bob Wells' annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in Arizona. There she learns tips for living on the road, swaps supplies, and befriends even more folks (most playing themselves) who live the nomad lifestyle, including Dave (David Strathairn), who seems smitten with her. Based on Jessica Bruder's nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, the drama follows Fern as she travels to various towns doing everything from waitressing to camp hosting to working on a beet farm.

Is it any good?

McDormand gives one of the quietest, most powerful performances of her career as a woman living on and discovering the joys of the road in this affecting, memorable drama. Because it features real members of the "home on wheels" community -- several of whom are the same nomads featured in Bruder's source article and book -- Nomadland has a documentary-like feel, capturing the various bittersweet reasons that these folks have given up staying in one place, retiring on Social Security, and paying oversized mortgages or rents. Joshua James Richards' outstanding cinematography highlights the lush landscapes of every town that Fern temporarily calls home. The American Dream may have failed Fern and her friends, but now they get to experience the natural beauty of the United States, even as it contrasts with the occasionally dirty work they take to have that privilege. 

Zhao and McDormand's creative partnership here is remarkable. McDormand, who's also one of the film's producers, is peerless as Fern. It's difficult to imagine almost anyone else in her generation excelling in the part, except for perhaps her old Raising Arizona co-star and friend, Holly Hunter. Ever the character actor, Strathairn is excellent as Dave, who wants to spend as much time by Fern's side as possible. But Fern isn't as interested in romance as she is in friendship, and she'd rather sleep in Vanguard (her white van) than a guest room any day. As she says to a younger friend's well-meaning teen daughter who bumps into her in a store: "I'm not homeless, I'm just houseless -- not the same thing, right." Like Christopher McCandless before his fatal trip to Alaska in Into the Wild, Fern grows fond of her experiences on the road, tramping not in a train but in her van, being part of a community that lives in an unconventional but fulfilling way that allows them to see the vastness of the country on their own terms.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how relatively few movies center on women over 50 or on working-class characters. How does Nomadland depict older gig workers?

  • Discuss the character strengths that various characters demonstrate here. Why are gratitude, perseverance, and teamwork important?

  • What message does the movie share about the nature of work? How does Fern approach paying jobs?  

  • Despite everyone's fierce independence, how do the characters here help and support one another? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate