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Flicks - Middle of Nowhere
Middle of Nowhere 12/12/06 2:45
Flicks - Middle of Nowhere
A young woman with a husband in prison is faced with difficult choices in the heartfelt and intelligent new film Middle of Nowhere. Middle of Nowhere is the name of a new Sundance award-winning film by up-and-coming writer-director Ava DuVernay. It also describes the emotional and spiritual condition of its main character, Ruby, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi. Hers is a not uncommon situation that is, sadly enough, rarely depicted in a film—that of a woman married to a man in prison. Her husband Derrick, with whom she is obviously deeply in love, is serving an 8-year sentence for a nonviolent crime which goes unspecified until later in the film. The opening conversation, during a prison visit, has Ruby, a nurse, telling her husband that she is giving up medical school for the time being so that she can keep visiting him regularly. He protests that he doesn't want her to give up her life for him, but she insists that their bond means more to her than a career, and besides, he can get out soon with good behavior. Things seem to be going that way, with Derrick winning a parole hearing earlier than expected, but some self-destructive actions on his part threaten to ruin that dream. Meanwhile, the attractive driver of the bus that takes Ruby to work for her night shifts starts wooing her.
DuVernay's warm, emotional style takes the time to evoke the sadness and confusion of being separated from one's beloved by prison bars. But this central dramatic situation stands for a lot more. Ruby's relationship with her impatient, demanding mother, and her sister, an unwed mom, is tinged with a general sense of disappointment about what life should have been but for bad luck and poor choices. The film's long dialogue scenes take us past the usual exposition to a real sense of being stuck in old habits that no longer work. Ruby is quiet but passionate, desperately wanting a man in her life, but not so much that she will give herself away. The ostensible choice between her husband and the bus driver reveals a more important choice she faces that has nothing to do with romance—to rely on her own inner strength or continue to wait for someone else to make decisions for her.
Middle of Nowhere features fine performances from relatively unknown actors. In addition to the beautiful Corinealdi, there is sensitive work by Omari Hardwick as her husband Derrick; and Lorraine Toussaint is compelling as Ruby's complex and difficult mother, Ruth. DuVernay reveals a bit of her beginner's status by relying on songs for dramatic transition, but it's a remarkably self-assured film nevertheless, with a strong sense of the demands made on people by real conditions, and those people's responses, which are not clear-cut or simple. Also it's refreshing to see such a good film centered on the lives of black women, who don't get to take center stage in movies often enough. In fact, DuVernay's best director win at Sundance was the first for an African American woman.