Complete A-Z list



Stars: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn

Director: Chloe Zhao

Empire, Nevada, during the Depression of 2011. When the town's gypsum plant closes down, recently widowed Fern (McDormand), shorn of any reason to stay in what is becoming a ghost town, packs her belongings into her RV (camper van) and hits the road.

The remainder of this lovingly-photographed, Academy Award-winning film chronicles her travels across the American mid and far west (the film was shot in several states, from Arizona in the south to South Dakota in the north) meeting many nomadic fellow-travellers along the way, some dying, some seeking redemption, some escaping the past and some simply with wanderlust. Many of them are real-life non-actors.

A possible romantic liaison beckons with white-haired Dave (Strathairn), but will Fern want to get tied down again? Along the way, of course, she gets casual work here and there (with surprising ease) in order to keep body and soul together.

The film spares us little of the deprivations of such a life, including primitive sanitary arrangements. But it finds beauty in solitude and the vast plains and rock formations of western America. You feel that this is a uniquely American experience, and not one for all tastes. Give the film time, however, and it will exert something of a grip on most; a few, however, will undoubtedly find it one long yawn. McDormand's quiet resolution is the glue that holds it together and has won her numerous awards including the Oscar.

Available on Disney + from 1 May, cinemas from 17 May

David Quinlan

USA 2020. UK Distributor: Disney (Fox Searchlight). Colour by Harbor.
108 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 30 Apr 2021