I had the pleasure of seeing writer and director Ava DuVernay speak at the Film Independent Directors Series this past year. When asked how and why she got into filmmaking, her answers were, perhaps, a bit unconventional. DuVernay spent many years working in niche film distribution. She realized that not enough of the kinds of films she wanted to see were actually being made. So, she decided to do something about it. Now, a few years later, DuVernay has successfully written and directed her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere, a character-driven drama centered on an all-black cast. The film won the “Best Director” award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Middle of Nowhere centers on Ruby (played by newcomer Emayatzy Corinealdi). Ruby is a quiet, hard-nosed, young woman who works at a hospital. She is committed to her long hours and her current life. She goes to work, she comes home, and she visits her incarcerated husband in prison. She clings to optimism as if it is the only thing she has left in the world. She is optimistic that her husband will be released after half of his eight-year sentence and life will go on. Nothing will change, and she will wait for him.
She struggles as time passes, and her husband (Omari Hardwick, Kick-Ass, The A-Team) does change, or rather, he adapts to life in prison. On the other hand, Ruby’s life is stagnant as she has imprisoned herself in her routine. But, slowly, life and change break in. Ruby takes the bus to work, and she catches the eye of the charismatic driver Brian (David Oyelowo, Red Tails, Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Meanwhile, her strained relationship with her mother, Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint, Friday Night Lights, Saving Grace) and sister, Rosie (Edwina Findley, Treme, Brothers and Sisters) further complicates her life plan to shut out the world until her husband’s release.
Complex, quiet, and powerful, this film is not afraid to wallow in the grey areas of life. Middle of Nowhere poses questions, but does not preach or profess to have the answers. Ruby, Ruth, and Rosie are all well-flushed out characters that are a pleasure to watch on screen. In addition, Ruby’s chemistry with Brian the bus driver is palpable, and David Oyelowo, perphaps best known in the US for his performance in Red Tails, is most certainly an actor to watch.
DuVernay’s honest approach to filmmaking is a breath of fresh air. There is something unique about sitting down and taking in a well-acted, complicated, yet simple, drama. The pace of the film may move slowly for some viewers, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It also has a great soundtrack.
AFFRM and Participant Media jointly acquired the rights to theatrically distribute the film.