Title: Middle of Nowhere
Director: Ava DuVernay
Writer: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Lorraine Toussaint, Omari Hardwick
MPAA Rating: R, some language
Runtime: 97 min
IMDb Rating: 4.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Middle of Nowhere, Ava DuVernay‘s second feature which won her the Directing Award for U.S. Dramatic Film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and which just received nominations for Best Feature and Breakthrough Actor from the Gotham Awards, is a pretty damn unforgettable film. It’s also the kind of film that probably won’t be seen by all that many people but that really, really should. I know so many good films will start flooding theaters at this time of year and the smaller ones will undeniably fall through the cracks for many, but even if you have to go out your way to avoid making Middle of Nowhere one those films you really should, this is one made for smart adults and it’s a little gem that shouldn’t be overseen.
Emayatzy Corinealdi, the receiver of that Breakthrough Actor nomination, plays Ruby here, a bright medical student who must put her dreams on indefinite hold when the news hits her that her husband will be incarcerated. It’s a wonderful film as we see her drop everything to live this new life, committed to a relationship that will have to endure a forced separation for eight years, with the shame that comes with it.
Eventually stuff will happen that will send Ruby through a process of self-discovery that that’s amazing to watch. It’s a slow-boiling kind of film, that much is true, but it will quietly and steadily really get to your soul as it touches on this emotionally complex side of African American life that you don’t see in movies all that often. I loved this film because of the people it presented, because of how moving their plight, how easy to recognize their emotions, how haunting a character-driven film it is and how accomplished a director Ms. DuVernay establishes herself to be here.
Maybe you already knew Ms. DuVernay as a fine director, after all her feature debut from last year, I Will Follow, was championed by Roger Ebert which is always a good indication, but maybe like me this is your first exposure to her work. Like I said, though, for many this will be neither their first or their second exposure, for many it will take longer to find out about this film or I Will Follow(which I plan to watch sometime this week) and it’s just unfair. These films, the kind that pose a very specific reality and manage to transcend that to speak a universally human truth, are the kind that stay with you and shouldn’t be missed.
Because the story really is rather simple, it touches on loneliness and loyalty to your significant other, things anyone can relate to, but what sets Middle of Nowhere apart from the rest of the pack is that it’s no so much about the story as it is about the storytelling. In the way Ms. DuVernay decides to show us this story it feels artful and in the way she relies on her actors more than she does on her own screenplay it shows an unwavering sense of confidence, how she uses their faces to really reveal the emotional depths this film so wonderfully explores.
That will be brilliantly evident when you see how amazing Ms. Corinealdi is, when you see how she portrays these emotions in scenes that don’t seem to be acted out at all, that don’t seem to be following a script but rather just seem to be happening right then and there inside of her. The film is pretty much all about what Ruby is feeling deep inside of her and you need a tremendously gifted performer to bring all of that to the forefront for us as an audience to understand and relate, and Ms. Corinealdi achieves that and then some.
Plus Ruby’s just a damn great character, and props to Ms. DuVernay for creating her. I mean, think about it, it’s not often at all that we get a film that’s centered on the life of an African American woman, and when we do it’s either a ridiculously comedy or an unbearable melodrama; that we can get a film nowadays in which we just see this woman being, just thinking and feeling more than actually talking, is a rare event that we should really treasure.
You can say so much about Ruby’s decision to put her life on hold and dedicate herself to her imprisoned husband, you can say it’s awfully loyal or, like Ruby’s mother, you can call it dumb because, after all, he was sent to prison for something. Ruby must take these horribly long trips to visit her husband which really brings forth a larger sense of how lonely she is and, obviously, means that she can’t do much of anything else with her life. Which is why it throws her for such an internal loop when she begins something with David, the kind bus driver played by David Oyelowo.
I know it’ll be tough for people to see this film. Black audiences, for the most part, only go to see films made by their community when they’re about rappers or gangsters or Tyler Perry; white audiences, for their part, won’t be rushing to see such an introspective little indie made with an all-black cast. It’s a tough sell, not all films transcend their limitations like Precious, and I’m no one to pass judgement as to why it is or how to fix it. I am, however, a lover of films, and as one I urge you watch this one.
Not because this will be about something big or anything like that, though. No,Middle of Nowhere doesn’t tackle any of the big social issues Ruby may be experiencing, it’s not about racism or an indictment on the justice system or anything like that at all. You should really seek out this film for its artistic merit alone, for the fact that it has the courage to really get into some complicated emotions and doing it on its own terms, with a narrative that may take a while to gather any kind of momentum but that really pays off in the end. This is an unmissable film from a tremendously gifted director and a star-making performance, what more do you need?