Friday, October 12, 2012

Middle Of Nowhere

A Woman In Limbo In Los Angeles

Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby in Ava DuVernay's drama "Middle Of Nowhere".
AFFRM/Bradford Young


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, October 12, 2012

"Middle Of Nowhere", the new drama written and directed by Ava DuVernay, is the best work Ms. DuVernay has ever done.  Masterfully directed, the Los Angeles-set film, shot beautifully by cinematographer Bradford Young, is one of the year's very best.  Ms. DuVernay's arresting, heartfelt and meaningful film merits serious Oscar consideration for acting, cinematography, screenplay and picture.

Emayatzy Corinealdi, in a very effective, balanced performance, is Ruby, a medical school student forced to drop out and focus on safeguarding her incarcerated husband Derek's (Omari Hardwick) well-being.  Ruby's marriage is fragile but her dedication to Derek, serving an eight-year-prison term, is nothing less than loyal, though Ruby faces challenges both moral and economic, especially when she meets Brian (David Oyelowo), who develops a romantic interest in her.

Narrated by Ms. Corinealdi in a loving and thoughtful manner as a poem to Ruby as much as Derek, "Middle Of Nowhere" is a warm, emblematic and richly authentic portrait of a black woman exploring herself philosophically, spiritually and intimately as she attempts to keep her equilibrium amidst family turmoil.  The Los Angeles on display here is one belonging to the working class, one that quietly goes about its business making a living.  At all times what I saw was natural, real and peaceful, just as that particular Los Angeles actually is.  In this way "Middle Of Nowhere" explores atmosphere and in particular a multilayered fabric of the black family in a way that few films do: carefully, with nuance, deliberation and in an evocative and intelligent way.

I liked the adult sensibility and honesty Ms. DuVernay captured.  I was moved by the all-too-real situations Ruby and other characters find themselves in.  Many directors use theatrics in a dramatic film to underscore points and plot, but the director trusts the actors and her own strong writing to make the impression and speak for themselves without exaggerating moments in a cinematic way.  The purity of vision and the actors' complete investment in Ms. DuVernay's story makes "Middle Of Nowhere" a great film and a refreshing experience.

Ms. DuVernay writes a thorough, detailed screenplay that doesn't stack the deck or judge any of its characters.  Her film gives resonant, meaningful expression to the feeling of being stuck in a dilemma and having to make tough choices in order to grow personally and emotionally.  In portraying a character in crisis Ms. Corinealdi brings the full-blooded, relatable Ruby to the big screen, an everywoman who works hard and holds her own in an even-handed, passionate way.  Ruby, contemplative and introspective, has values and conviction though like all of us she makes mistakes. 

After last year's debut feature film "I Will Follow" and now with "Middle Of Nowhere" it is clear that Ms. DuVernay's strong suit is her direction and depiction of characters who are comfortable in their own skin, and even more comfortable exploring it.  Bradford Young visually captures the texture of dark skin tones in a sensual, palpable way, and with the sensitivity that few directors, black or white, seem to these days.  Mr. Young, who has lensed such fine films as "Pariah", crafts shots of bold, colorful people, landscapes and tight spaces, making them all vivid and illuminating. 

Ms. Corinealdi, and especially Lorraine Toussaint as Ruby's mother Ruth, merit Academy Award consideration.  Ms. Toussaint is excellent here in a supporting role, providing additional layers of tension and drama that help box Ruby in.  Edwina Findley is impressive as Rosie, Ruby's younger sister who has made choices that she struggles with, while being critical of Ruby.  Mr. Hardwick, who had a small role in "I Will Follow", has limited but valuable screen time as Derek, and is shown mainly in flashbacks that are stirring.  Mr. Oyelowo ("Red Tails", "Planet Of The Apes", "The Paperboy") is good here as Brian, shedding his British accent to play a Los Angeles bus driver.

Also with: Maya Gilbert, Dondre Whitfield, Sharon Lawrence, Andy Spencer.

"Middle Of Nowhere" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language.  The film's running time is one hour and 44 minutes.  

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