Once the epitome of youthful cool, road movies have been out of fashion for a long while. When they do pop up, they’re nearly always directed by Alexander Payne – viz. About Schmidt, Nebraskaand Sideways – and populated by older characters who doubtless flocked to see Easy Riderback in the day.


Nomadlandisn’t directed by Payne, though the pensioner on the road theme still applies. As the film opens, Frances McDormand’s 61-year-old Fern appears to be the very last person to leave the single-employer Nevada town of Empire. The closure of its gypsum plant has turned the place into a ghost-town that no longer even has the dignity of its own postal code.

Fern hits the road in her mobile home initially to pick up work in a gargantuan Amazon warehouse, a symbol of 21st-century postmodernity as dehumanising as any 19th-century cotton mill or factory. No surprise then that after building up her bank balance for a brief period it’s time to move on.

After she pulls into a roadside community of travellers in the desert headed by a gently...