Ava DuVernay’s ‘Middle of Nowhere’ Resonates by Valuing Truth Over Melodrama

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Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Ava DuVernay’s Sundance award-winning drama “Middle of Nowhere” is a confident, engaging drama strengthened by genuine, moving performances, particularly the stunningly good one at its center from Emayatzy Corinealdi. The movie sometimes falters due to some melodramatic, on-the-nose dialogue, but there’s an honesty, compassion, and genuine quality here that’s too often missing from adult dramas. It’s a striking debut.

Like so many Sundance dramas, “Middle of Nowhere” tells a relatively simple story but does so with enough artistic intent and truth of character that the common story that it tells becomes uncommonly good in its telling. There are strong performances across the board here but the film belongs to the stunning Emayatzy Corinealdi, who is in nearly every scene and imbues her performance with the kind of believability that is lacking from too many films like this one. I kept marveling at the sense of realism in “Middle of Nowhere” and that sense comes back to the work done by Corinealdi.

Middle of Nowhere
Middle of Nowhere
Photo credit: Participant Media

She stars as Ruby, a woman struggling with a husband named Brian (David Oyelowo) who is doing time behind bars. She visits him regularly and works hard to pay his legal bills but he’s getting increasingly distant. He seems cold at their meetings, doesn’t tell her about everything going on behind bars and seems to be actively pushing Ruby away. And who’s to say that she shouldn’t take that push? When a revelation makes the move to fully separate even more enticing, Ruby is faced with a tough decision. When do you give up on someone for your own good? Or do you ride out the tough times for someone you love? Can you forgive a man behind bars when you can’t even touch him?

It doesn’t help that Ruby is being courted by a very kind bus driver named Brian (David Oyelowo) who is clearly strongly attracted to her. When he runs into her at a party and she’s surprised he recognizes her, he says “I take you home.” He’s been noticing her and Ruby is in a stressed out place where it feels good to be noticed. Move on with Brian or stick with Derek? “Middle of Nowhere” presents the story of a believable woman in a tough situation.

Middle of Nowhere
Middle of Nowhere
Photo credit: Participant Media

“Middle of Nowhere” works because of the realism brought to it by the strong performances all around. DuVernay draws truth from the performances that other directors would have missed. It’s a striking debut in terms of performance although the script could have been a little denser. As the story gets deeper into its love triangle arc, some of the dialogue loses its way in the realm of melodrama. The quiet moments work better because DuVernay is better with actors than as a writer. Her dialogue sometimes feels forced but she finds a way to direct the actors to believable performances nonetheless. Naturally, as the film builds in tension and the love triangle becomes more of its focus, the forced dialogue becomes more of a concern but I found Corinealdi, Hardwick, and Oyelowo’s work strong enough to make the screenwriting concerns easier to overlook.

There are a number of beautiful moments and scenes in “Middle of Nowhere” that have a striking cumulative power. There’s a scene where Ruby has to ask for money from her judgmental mother to pay the retainer for her husband’s hearing that feels SO genuine. There’s another where she’s confronted by one of Brian’s friends that’s strikingly real. And the best moments are silent ones — a touch, a hug, a look — the elements that so many directors forget or outright ignore. This is one of the most interesting breakthrough films of the year, both for DuVernay and even more so for Corinealdi, a true future star to watch.

“Middle of Nowhere” stars Emayatzy Corinealdi, Omari Hardwick, David Oyelowo, Lorraine Toussaint, Maya Gilbert, Edwina Findley, and Sharon Lawrence. It was written and directed by Ava DuVernay. It will be released in Chicago on October 19, 2012.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

FilmBuff's picture

Chicago connection for Middle of Nowhere

Brian - Wanted to make sure you guys knew that the producer of this project is Paul Garnes, graduate of Chicago’s Columbia College and a Harvey/Chicago native.

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