See you down the road, 3.5 readers. BQB here with a review of this year’s Oscar winner.
I’ll say from the outset that if you’re looking for a neat plot where everything falls together perfectly, or clear-cut happy ending (SPOILER ALERT – whether there is one here, is debatable, as are most aspects of this movie) then this isn’t for you.
I’ll also say that in many ways, it’s a yawnfest. Boring. Meandering. Drifting. Sometimes pointless…although I think this is the point – that this is, for most, the way life is. You do some stuff. Stuff happens. Sometimes because of the stuff that happened, you have to change and do new stuff. Sometimes you’ll look back and wonder if you should have done other stuff. Then again, you would have done different stuff if you knew the changing stuff was coming and OMG how exhausting.
Frances McDormand plays Fern, a woman who lost everything due to the great recession of 2008 – her job, her town, her friends and her husband. When the gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada closed, the town literally closed with it, causing residents to flee in mass numbers to the point where the post office cancelled the area code. Alas, when it rains it pours, for while dealing with unemployment and financial woes, Fern’s husband dies and she’s on her own.
She becomes a nomad, and apparently there are many senior citizen nomads roaming America. They live in vans and campers, take seasonal work, then enjoy some semblance of a retirement for the rest of the year – driving around, visiting natural wonders, attractions, and so on. Ultimately, in today’s economy, the joys of a dignified retirement, one where Grandma and Grandpa living out their golden years in the house they bought and paid for long ago, going on fancy vacays and so on are no longer to be hoped for.
The film is more of a fake documentary. We see the way Fern lives and it doesn’t look great. She considers herself houseless, not homeless, but around the point when you see her (SPOILER ALERT) poop in a bucket, or wonder if she’s going to lose it all when a fist raps on her door, said fist belonging to a cop (will he tell her to move along? will he arrest her for vagrancy? Oh, the tension!) you begin to realize you’ve taken your home (and your toilet) for granted.
They say the best writers show and don’t tell but usually, in most mainstream Hollywood packaged films, there’s a bit of spoonfeeding here and there. Some character or some plot twist will happen that wraps it all up in a neat little bow where we all nod and say “ah” but that doesn’t happen here.
For example, as the story progresses, we see that Fern has options. Her sister and brother in law, well-off homeowners, disapprove of her lifestyle and offer to let her live with them. Not a bad option for someone who poops in a bucket but …and it’s never quite said and here’s where the film is a Rohrshach test – you can believe what you want. Maybe Fern is an idiot for not taking sis up on the offer of a roof over her head. Or, maybe Fern is smarter than everyone else. After all, nothing good in life is free. To live with sis means to live by someone else’s rules. You’ll never be fully in control of your life while you live under a roof someone else pays for. Maybe pooping in a bucket gives her more independence than we can ever hope for.
You might think Fern is a loser, only working part-time and then spending her little savings on road trips instead of, oh, I don’t know, spending it on rent or saving up for a down payment on a house. But then again, Fern thinks you’re a dummy for wanting all those things. She’s been through it. She lived life by society’s rules once. All those things you here as a kid. Work hard. Do good and do good things will happen. She built a home and a life that was taken away from her and at her age, she’s not about to do it all over again.
STATUS: Not really a happy fun time flick and not exactly rollicking good entertainment. I’m not sure it’s even up to Best Picture snuff though it did win and I can see why as it shines a light on how seniors are thrown away, how homeless people are thrown away, how not every homeless person is a “bum” and how behind every poop that ends up in a bucket, there’s a story about how that person lost their toilet. Sad.
DOUBLE SPOILER ALERT – though there were points where I wanted to fall asleep, I do think the ending was another one of those “it’s whatever you want it to be” things but I can see it being interpreted as Fern, given her situation, was right and everyone else was wrong all along. We never get that Hollywood spoonful of sugar to tell us what to think though so we don’t know for sure, or maybe we do. We never get to know for sure if what we did was right in life either so, yeah, fun times.