Nomadland and Senior Moment
Getting older with a fighting spirit
By Marc Glassman
Chloé Zhao, director and script based on the non-fiction book by Jessica Bruder
Starring: Frances McDormand (Fern), David Strathairn (Dave), Linda May (Linda May), Charlene Swankie (Swankie), Bob Wells (himself)
Streaming via Disney+’s Star
Giorgio Serafini, director
Kurt Brungardt & Christopher Momenee, script
Starring: William Shatner (Victor), Jean Smart (Caroline), Christopher Lloyd (Sal), Esai Morales (Diego), Carlos Miranda (Pablo), Katrina Bowden (Kristen)
Senior Moment is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play.
It’s a truism that the best film of the year doesn’t win the Oscar when it doesn’t echo the concerns of the public, but this year, it will. Nomadland is that rarity, a film that encompasses the spirit of our time—our Zeitgeist—with a story, which resonates with the audience and the critics. In the midst of a pandemic, which has forced us back into our homes and families, filled with fear about our future, here’s a film about nomads–senior citizens–on the road, surviving even as times turn darker. Willing ourselves to believe in a better tomorrow, most of us spend days and nights looking for hope on our screens and in our lives. Nomadland provides that hope in a way that feels earned: the indomitable people in her film are fighting hard to live in the painful economic reality of the U.S.A. pre-COVID but we can imagine their spirit keeping them going even now, during the pandemic.
Director and scriptwriter Chloé Zhao reinforces the reality that the unflinching trailer drivers are confronting by employing a style that pushes the documentary elements of the story. Based on a three-year journalistic project by Jessica Bruder, in which she traveled across America in a camper van, Nomadland started off as brilliant non-fiction writing. Zhao kept the details true and employed real life characters from Bruder’s book—Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Bob Wells—as key figures in the film. It was in this documentary atmosphere that she placed Frances McDormand into the mix. With her lived-in face and economy of gesture, McDormand is the perfect actor to fit seamlessly into the film. She may be the least glamorous Oscar winner of all time and you know that audiences will embrace her as Fern, another nomad trying to live her life as freely and economically as possible.
Nomadland is a road film, which offers the landscape of the U.S. as a backdrop to tales of people embracing the last act of their lives as they travel an often dark highway. McDormand’s Fern has left her home after her husband died and the town’s factory closed; like so many others, she saw no reason to stay in one place anymore. Along the way, she encounters more people like her and eventually goes to a desert rendezvous organized by Bob Wells, who had been living in an RV and been part of the geriatric work force since the ‘90s. Like many of her new friends, Fern works at Amazon factories and travels from place to place, making enough money to get by.
In the closest to a fictional element in Nomadland, Fern becomes a good friend of Dave, who is played by the only other major actor in the film, David Strathairn. Like McDormand, Strathairn knows how to blend into a story and is never showy in the film. Their romantic encounter is done discreetly and happily avoids the trap of taking the reality away from the film.
In these times, when notions of hope should never be overblown, Nomadland offers today’s audience something to believe in: a group of older people who refuse to knuckle under and give up on their lives. If they can do it, so can we. And I believe I’m right: this is the film that defines the pandemic. It will win Oscars this year. Deservedly.
Although there are constant complaints about older folks being neglected in the media, Zoomer romances are landing on our screens with great frequency in recent years. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Mama Mia were so successful that they launched sequels and others like I’ll See you in my Dreams (Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott) and The Leisure Seeker (Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland) have shown that love is just as important for the old as the young.
So it really should be no surprise that sparks fly when William Shatner’s Victor, a former pilot and amateur race car driver, encounters the funny, confident Caroline (Jean Smart). By the time they meet, Victor has lost his license and, temporarily, his Posche, for driving too fast; in fact, he stumbles over her on a bus, hardly the kind of high style he’d been used to in his glory days. Caroline has adjusted quite nicely to aging gracefully—running her Coo Coo Café and espousing a “save the tortoise” cause in Palm Springs, California. The whole town seems to be full of sprightly senior citizens getting on with life, including Victor’s best friend, the funny and very eccentric Sal, who is played by the remarkable Christopher Lloyd, who is now “back in the future” decades after playing with Michael J. Fox.
There’s not much of a plot to slow down our enjoyment of the performances by Shatner, Smart and Lloyd. Shatner has to get his license and Porsche back despite enjoying a drink or two while he and Smart must be given time to do the rom-com “boy meets girl” scenario—only this time for senior citizens.
Definitely a low-budget low-key effort, Senior Moment avoids embarrassing situations and relies on charm to make this a Zoomer rom-com worthy of a night of streaming.