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“Nomadland” grounds us and reminds us the value of living in the now

Nomadland, directed by Chloé Zhao and based on Jessica Bruder’s book, is a captivating story of a woman’s journey across America and becoming a modern-day nomad in the post-Great Recession era. While the the film explores the issues of poverty and the consequences of economic failure, its true magic lies within the amazing stories that Fern (Frances McDormand) hears throughout her voyage, and the strong relationships she builds. Nomadland, in its most prominent aspect, teaches us the value of living in the now.

Fern, a recently-widowed woman who’s abandoned her old life to travel the country as a nomad, meets people similar to her, taking small jobs wherever she can. We meet Swankie, who teaches Fern a variety of things that everyday nomads ought to know. Fern also bonds with fellow nomads (most of whom are played by non-professional actors, real members of the nomad lifestyle), including Linda May, Bob Wells (an American vandweller who lectures others on a minimalistic and nomadic lifestyle) and Dave (David Strathairn), another fellow nomad who presents himself as a potential partner, a means to settle down again.

Linda May and Frances McDormand in the film NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

One of the most unexpectedly effective components of Fern’s quest is the significance of fleeting, seemingly unimportant moments in her life. We see Fern exploring canyons with Dave, Swankie teaching the main character everything she knows, or a young man asking Fern for a cigarette and engaging in a light, rather introductory conversation. He’s with a group of young people travelling in a bus; he, like Fern, is on his own journey, where the details are unimportant save for the fact that they’re going somewhere. Fern gives him a lighter; “I’ll be seeing you,” he says. It’s such a trivial moment, but the last words carry a promise. The two are crossing paths only for a moment, but it’s clear these little moments are the reason they’re both out here.

The scene that also stayed with me was Fern celebrating New Year’s Eve alone in her van. It’s night when Fern lights a single sparkler, while wearing a  “Happy New Year” tiara.  When the time comes, Fern starts waving the sparkler, twirling, laughing, and shouting, “Happy New Year!”. It’s a simple scene, but it makes you want to be right there with Fern celebrating the new year. It’s a scene that’s forced me to ponder my previous celebrations with family and friends: when our life gets tough, and we need something to lean on, we come back to those memories of simple connection with others. Fern’s alone, but not really; we’re right there with her. Like the nomads, we’re alone together.   

Frances McDormand and David Strathairn in the film NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Over the course of her travels, Fern re-learns how to live and experiences newfound happiness caused by seemingly insignificant events. Zhao infuses the simple task of Fern learning how to change a tire with unexpected import. Just dancing with her new friends, or going with Dave to the zoo and marveling at the animals she sees, we get to live in the joy of the mundane along with her.      

The story of Nomadland is a humbling experience to myself and makes me think about my own past life experiences. It helps me appreciate seemingly inconsequential moments between me and my relatives or friends. In the perspective, they are the ones that I come back to the most.

Nomadland also showcases the crucial importance of human conversations and bonds. Especially now, when the worldwide pandemic forced the entire world to stay home, isolated within our bubbles, the simple beauty of human interaction isn’t lost on us. We’ve spent a year in Zoom meetings, interacting with people through screens and masks. Because of this, the simple task of going to the store and talking to strangers feels borderline impossible. Being away from people for so long, we seem to forget how to communicate. 

However, Zhao’s film reminds us that talking to people is crucial and mind-stimulating. In one scene, Bob Wells and a group of nomads gather around a sizzling bonfire and exchange life stories. “I’m a Vietnam vet and I got PTSD,” one of the members shares. “I really can’t handle loud noises, big crowds, fireworks. I got a pickup truck and a camper. I can live out here and be at peace,” he shares. Another person, a woman, tells the gathered group that she began her healing journey over two years ago, thanks to Bob and his videos. These brief moments when nomads can come together and express their adoration for this lifestyle, are truly significant and carry a unique charm.

Swankie. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

The next meeting’s atmosphere transforms into something more somber when Swankie passes away. Nomads gather around the campfire, throwing stones into the fire one by one. “Because she loved rocks,” says a woman holding a little dog.  When it is Bob’s turn, he does the same and says, See you down the road, Swankie.” What I paid most attention to in this touching scene was that nobody cried. In contrast – Fern smiled when throwing the rock into the fire. I was amazed by the characters’ view on death. Instead of spiraling into sadness, it feels like they know that they will meet Swankie again.

While I observed Fern’s journey and was highly moved by her tight relationships with the community, I was also charmed by the exceptional, breathtaking cinematography that adds to the beauty of Nomadland – be it a beautiful sunset, Linda May and Fern resting in folded chairs, or the aforementioned bonfire scene. With yet another factor, Nomadland forces us to reflect, maybe even on our life, and go back to these moments that seem irrelevant, still, they’re burnt into our memory because we value them for different reasons. Maybe it was the positive, euphoric feeling we felt during that moment. Perhaps it’s the person that we shared a moment with. 

Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

That’s the magic of Zhao’s film. With the exceptional acting of McDormand, the creators open and let us discover a different world, where we stop our busy lives and live in the now with Fern.  As we are mentored by Bob, Swankie, and Linda May, we also realize the faults of this country and the brutal aftermath of economic breakdown that left many no choice but to pack up, get into a vehicle, and travel, seeking work.

As mentioned above, it’s a picture that will let us reflect on our lives. We don’t need all the things we desire to be happy and free. What the film made me realize is that we live too fast and don’t appreciate trivial moments in our day. I was rather dismissive of them. However, Nomadland transformed my thinking. The film also encourages us to appreciate the people in our lives anew, as well as those ones who will appear in our path in the future.

Nomadland is available to stream on Hulu.

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“The Prom” is Packed with Zazz, Sequins and Spectacular Designs

This review may contain spoilers to The Prom.

Edited by Toni Stanger.

When I was in high school, I didn’t take my girlfriend to the prom. Instead, I made a deal with my then best friend. I will take him to mine; he will take me to his. It wasn’t actually forbidden for me to bring my girlfriend, but it was surely frowned upon. Even when one of my friends didn’t have a partner and wanted to dance  with her female friend, my teacher didn’t think it was suitable. 

In The Prom, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) is way braver than I was. As a young woman from a very conservative Indiana high school, the teenager fights the PTA board, led by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington, American Son), to let her take her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose, Hamilton), to the prom. The PTA board remains determined, however, even with the support of school principal Mr. Hawkins (Keegan Michael Key, Keanu), and the dance is completely canceled. 

Suddenly, Dee Dee Allen (Meryl StreepMamma Mia!) steps in – once a great Broadway star, today a spoiled, selfish actress who lives on unemployment checks. Together with Barry Glickman (James CordenSuperintelligence), the co-star of the canceled yet very expensive new Broadway show, as well as Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman, The Goldfinch), and Tent Oliver (Andrew Rannells, A Simple Favor) – two actors also looking for their big break – the group jumps on a bus to Indiana. Under the guise of helping Emma, the actors aim to show themselves as kind, helpful, selfless people – but everything changes when their plan is discovered, and, in the end, the actors find themselves determined to give Emma the best inclusive prom.

The Prom, created by Ryan Murphy (Ratched, The Boys in The Band), a veteran of everything campy, is packed with zazz, sequins, self-love, and everything that shines – including a five-star cast. The new Netflix original is based on the Broadway musical by Matthew Sklar and a book by Bob Martin with the same title. The production is utterly sweet and uplifting. The audience receives an interesting encounter between precocious actors and a young woman who just wants to be accepted for who she is. If you’re afraid you’ll only see LGBTQ+ characters being mistreated by self-absorbed characters who believe they’re the world’s moon and stars, don’t be. Murphy balances it exceptionally and, in the second act, displays the possibility of change and making amends. 

THE PROM (L to R) JAMES CORDEN as BARRY GLICKMAN, NICOLE KIDMAN as ANGIE DICKINSON, MERYL STREEP as DEE DEE ALLEN, KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY as MR. HAWKINS in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

Everything about the set design is spectacular. The creators use every surface they can possibly use and create an atmosphere of the prom that we, as an audience, can really feel. It may bring a little bit of nostalgia for older audiences and a breath of fresh air for youngsters. Lou Eyrich, the costume designer who has worked with Murphy plenty of times (most recently on Ratched), has outdone herself in creating the characters’ costumes. Each person, be it Dee Dee, Angie, or Barry, screams sequins and glitter. Simultaneously, despite the use of the same materials such as said glitter, each outfit reflects the personality of the character. Dee Dee’s attributes are shawls; meanwhile, Angie loves a soft, flat hat, typically with a visor. One of my favorite outfits is Emma’s modern baby-blue suit in the final scene. In pair with Alyssa’s shiny prom dress, the sapphic duo becomes a powerhouse and charms the audience in front of the TVs and the rest of the cast. 

The performances in The Prom wary from dizzying to just okay. Streep’s Dee Dee is stunning. As the actress who needs to re-learn how to be humble, she’s mostly paired with Key’s Hawkins. The school principal has been a long-time fan of Dee Dee’s work, but suddenly the man clashes with the reality of her “tarnished brand.” After always idolising her, Hawkins realizes she’s truly a spoilt brat. The newcomer, Pellman, is absolutely spectacular. My personal favorite song is her performance of Zazz. In a singing duet with Nicole Kidman’s Angie, both actresses are unstoppable, dancing on the stairs and emanating the titular zazz. 

THE PROM (L to R) NICOLE KIDMAN as ANGIE DICKINSON,JO ELLEN PELLMAN as EMMA in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

Each song, written by Chad Beguelin, has a contemporary feel that perfectly fits Emma’s situation. One of my other favorites, besides Zazz, is Love Thy Neighbor by Rannells in the mall scene, and Unruly Heart sang by Pellman’s character in a highly emotional scene that’s also a standout song/performance. Emma ultimately decides to come forward and address the discrimination she faced in her high school. While the teenager sings the song, the audience can see all the people from the LGBTQ+ community watching the video, and discover how the words and the voice affect them. Further into the plot, we see some of them again during an inclusive prom organized by the film characters for Emma. 

In the opposite corner, there is Mrs. Greene, the leader of the PTA board and the loudest opponent of Emma’s “life choices.” Kerry Washington gives a great performance as a conservative yet caring mother. The actress touches the viewers’ hearts when her on-screen daughter, Alyssa, excellently portrayed by DeBose, comes out to her. We obtain a very relevant and profoundly personal moment that is deeply authentic. Instead of hate or exaggerated optimism, we observe one parent’s very coherent reaction in which there is a promise of further serious talks yet evident acceptance.

The person who doesn’t feel right here is Corden. Although he really tries and repeatedly shows it, the actor and talk show host feels off when amongst other cast members. Barry’s character, a gay man who never got a chance to go to the prom, is exaggerated in the negative sense of the word. The idea is touching; however, Corden misplaces his attention, and, in effect, the audience misses out on a great character that was first introduced in the Broadway musical.

The Prom is a heartwarming picture with catchy songs that will make you smile. At the same time, it’s a brutal reminder of the world we live in. While we may move forward in regards to LGBTQ+ rights, there are still places in the world and in the United States of America where teenagers from the community face homophobia and bullying because of who they are. It’s a quite sobering reflection that is needed. 

THE PROM (L to R) JO ELLEN PELLMAN as EMMA, ARIANA DEBOSE as ALYSSA GREENE in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

The musical also reminds us how crucial and life-changing coming out can be. A similar theme could be seen in Hulu’s recent Happiest Season, the new holiday rom-com directed by Clea DuVall. The film caused a very torn discourse in social media revolving around coming-out stories, and there is a possibility that it may happen with The Prom. However, it’s worth remembering that although times are slowly changing, modern adolescents have to see these stories as well. Young people deserve to see coming-out stories that are contemporary and suitable for today’s wide, complicated world. And that’s what The Prom does. 

The Prom is something we really need right now, especially as this turbulent year is nearing its end. The spectacular cast does their best as singers, dancers, and actors. Even with a few hiccups, it provides a great time for the family. Its uplifting, entertaining narrative, combined with the moving message, will make your heart warm. Catchy songs will be stuck in your head, but it’s Emma’s storyline that will let you rethink the world that we live in and make you realize that we, as a society, still have a long way to go in terms of tolerance. 

The Prom will be available to stream on December 11th on Netflix.

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The Film Nerdette Talks Pop Culture

December 4th, 2020

Welcome to my website! If you’re on Twitter or, more specifically, you’re interested in film and television and you’re on Twitter, you may have seen my profile while scrolling down. My name is Zofia Wijaszka and I’m a Los Angeles-based film and television critic. I am contributing writer for Awards Watch, First Showing, Nerdist, and many more publications. Before I moved to the United States and found outlets who let me contribute, I’ve written for Polish film portals such as Gildia Filmu, or local newspapers – all that while studying journalism and social communication with creative writing (sic!). Don’t ask me why.

My work varies. I can write a review of the new film with Margot Robbie, then you find me speaking about how Krampus is the best holiday film – seriously. My interest is mostly female characters in the pop culture discourse, but not only. Hence, you can find me talking about What We Do in The Shadows a LOT.

I’ve had this website for quite a long time – since 2016. I abandoned it, however, when I started my freelancing. But since sometimes I really want to write about something and there is no time to pitch said idea, I decided to revive my old website. And before you think you’ll find my old articles here, let me stop you right there and say – no way. The amount of overall cringe I have found was quite overwhelming and I don’t want to expose you to this.

My adventure 2.0 with the website will start with my review of The Prom which should go live this weekend or Monday so stay tuned if you want to learn my thoughts on Ryan Murphy’s new musical.