Title: Middle of Nowhere

Director: Ava DuVernay

Starring: Emayatzy Corinealdi, Omari Hardwick, David Oyelowo, Edwina Findley, Lorraine Toussaint, Sharon Lawrence

“Middle of Nowhere” may have a nondescript title, but the skill of its staging is anything but pedestrian. An intimate, confidently directed and superbly acted humanistic drama that is utterly at home in the subtle push-and-pull of long-standing family arguments and tensions, the Los Angeles-set film casts a long spell — not unlike the recent “For Ellen” — through its beguiling maintainence of melancholic mood.

Written and directed by publicist-turned-filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and released via a distributor, African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, that she helped co-found, “Middle of Nowhere” focuses on Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a bright medical student who puts her dreams on hold and suspends her career when her husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) lands in prison — hopeful that he can be released early for good behavior, after five years of “good time.”

Four years later, as an important parole hearing looms, Derek seems distant, and more than a little ambivalent about a return to domestic normalcy, leading Ruby, now a nurse, to wonder whether her many sacrifices have been in vain. Against the backdrop of a pair of complicated relationships — with her sister Rosie (Edwina Findley), a single mother, and their own mom Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint) — Ruby is forced to stare past some of the walls she constructed to convince herself of her marriage’s solidity. She also meets Brian (David Oyelowo), a bus driver who seemingly offers her a stability and presence that Derek cannot.

DuVernay picked up Best Director honors at the Sundance Film Festival for the movie, and it’s easy to see why. The film’s plotting is familiar, and a couple of its gambits tired (the moment where the phone call of a daughter is briefly mistaken for that of another love interest), but there’s a lyrical quality to the direction, which doesn’t attempt to distill Ruby’s contradictory emotions into neatly parceled, clear and direct motivations.

Much of the film, DuVernay’s second, is naturalistic in its own way, but cinematographer Bradford Young shoots in a muted fashion that underscores the film’s melancholic, deeply interior vibe while not calling attention to itself. Likewise, the production design is spare. The result is a movie that is earnest without being cornpone, slight without being simple, and beautiful without being overly adorned.

Corinealdi’s performance, an utter revelation, has a lot to do with this connection. She headlines a cast who captures, in smart, affecting and concise strokes, the inner restlessness and not easily articulated regret of characters fumbling toward an emotional equilibrium. “Middle of Nowhere” is an honest and moving account of some of the tough decisions that face those left on the outside when a loved one goes to prison — and when the not-yet-extinguished dreams of a life they wanted are commingled with a sense of shame over what their life actually is.

Technical: A-

Acting: A

Story: B-

Overall: B+

Written by: Brent Simon

Middle of Nowhere Movie

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By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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