As much as Middle of Nowhere benefits from its soft-spoken, closely-observed realism, it suffers from being draggy and low on dramatic incident. It’s the kind of movie in which the heroine spends long scenes looking out of windows or sitting up in bed, and fortunately lead actress Emayatzy Corinealdi has the acting chops to make such moments seem purposeful.
Corinealdi plays Ruby, a nurse who abandons her dream of attending medical school when her husband Derrick (Omari Hardwick) is sentenced to eight years in prison. Ruby wants to be support her incarcerated husband any way she can, with hopes that he’ll be released in five years for good behavior. After introductory scenes, Middle of Nowhere leaps forward four years, when the possibility of Derrick’s parole faces multiple complications. Ruby wrestles with loneliness and fends off the advances of a flirtatious bus driver (David Oyelowo). Meanwhile, Ruby’s caustic mother (Lorraine Toussaint) provides a constant source of criticism, as if she’s nursing a grudge the film never identifies.
DuVernay withholds the nature of Derrick’s crime until late in the movie, clearly intending for the audience to focus on the couple’s relationship and the tests to Ruby’s devotion. Hardwick gives Derrick a magnetic stoicism and Corinealdi conveys the depths of Ruby’s feelings for him, but when the film eventually reveals his crime and the circumstances of his arrest, you wonder why she invested so much in him. The film raises the question that self-sacrifice can become self-defeating, but blunts its potentially sharp conclusion with a vague voice-over.
It may be a coincidence that Corinealdi shares the name of Ashley Judd’s character in Ruby in Paradise, Victor Nuñez’s 1993 character study that’s similarly long on realistic atmosphere and likely to send viewers to slumberland. Winner of the directing award for U.S. Dramatic Film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Middle of Nowhere blossoms with more confrontational moments, such as Ruby’s argument with Derrick’s lawyer (Sharon Lawrence) over legal fees. Audiences seeking an alternative to the usual noise and grandstanding will appreciate Middle of Nowhere’s melancholy serenity. Other viewers might echo the cliché from old suspense films: “It’s quiet... it’s too quiet.”
Middle of Nowhere. 2 stars. Directed by Ava DuVernay. Stars Emayatzy Corinealdi, Omari Hardwick. Rated R. In area theaters.
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