Sunday, November 11, 2012
Middle of Nowhere
Ruby is played in a star-making performance by Emayatzy Corinealdi, previously best known for the TV soap "The Young and the Restless." We learn that Ruby was in med school when she married Derek, and we're given some glimpses of their happiness (as in a standard scene of them cooking together). When Derek is sentenced to prison (for reasons that are withheld at first and then never fully explained), she drops out of school to devote herself to his life and morale. This is a decision sharply criticized by her mother, Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint). Her mother is correct.
This becomes clear during Derek's parole hearing, when Ruby learns disturbing things about his time in prison. Her lonely life, her long bus trips and her empty house have built up a sad weight that comes into play when she meets a kind of gentle bus driver named Brian (David Oyelowo). They slowly, tentatively start seeing each other.
"Middle of Nowhere" is the second film directed by Ava DuVernay, whose "I Will Follow" (2011) was the story, much admired by me, of a woman who packs up the belongings of her just-deceased aunt who was a mentor and inspiration. How many people, now dead, have you wanted to ask questions you should have asked when they were alive?
This gorgeous, sober drama about the human costs of prison deserves a broader audience than it's likely to get, writes Andrew O'Hehir: It’s already an extremely tough marketplace for small independent films that arrive without a lot of brand identity or star power, and it might be three times tougher when you’re talking about a movie like Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” – a beautiful, sober and even grave social drama with an entirely African-American cast. (OK, Sharon Lawrence has a dispensable bit part as a hard-ass white lawyer.) This is an issue guaranteed to make everyone feel uncomfortable, but it does no good to run away from it: There’s very little audience (black, white or otherwise) for black-oriented films that aren’t about gangsters or rappers, or that aren’t Tyler Perry–style moralistic melodramas. In fact, experience tells me it’ll be tough to get people to read this article, let alone see the film.
It’s a bit too easy to blame this reluctance on overt or covert racism; I’m in no position to make that judgment and I think it’s more complicated than that anyway. People of all backgrounds are leery of unknown movies or books or TV shows that they fear may be judgmental or lecture-y or otherwise spinach-infused. When one black movie a year — Lee Daniels’ “Precious” a couple of years ago, and Dee Rees’ terrific “Pariah” in 2011 — beats the odds and crosses over to a somewhat mainstream audience, it does so by overcoming those perceptions and riding a current of urgent, documentary-style realism. Movies that are more subjective, self-conscious and artfully crafted, like “Middle of Nowhere” or Tanya Hamilton’s neglected near-masterpiece “Night Catches Us,” are definitely tougher sells.
Mind you, both of those pictures absolutely have social-realist credentials, and tell stories that are central to the life of the African-American community. If “Night Catches Us” was about the unresolved legacy of 1960s-style black radicalism, “Middle of Nowhere” addresses a highly contemporary and explosive issue, the way that millions of ordinary black families have been torn apart by incarceration. DuVernay’s script and moody, elegant direction (which won her the best-director prize at Sundance this year) are tightly focused on the anguish of Ruby (the exquisite Emayatzy Corinealdi), a composed and ambitious medical student whose personal and professional ambitions are derailed when her husband is sent to a prison in California’s Central Valley, two hours by bus from their Los Angeles home.