Middle Of Nowhere
This year Ava DuVernay became the first African-American to win the Best Director prize at Sundance, and her focused, somber-toned drama deserves attention and accolades. At the center of "Middle of Nowhere" is Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a sometimes delicate but ultimately strong African-American woman dealing with being on the outside while her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick) is doing time for an unspecified crime involving guns.
Her visits to the prison serve as a poignant encapsulation of her emotional trajectory. This is very much a film about a woman’s journey, her negotiation of the hardships brought on her by her beloved and her emergence from passivity. DuVernay’s task, really, is to make us sympathize with Ruby organically, without making her out to be a victim or martyr surrounded by less righteous conflict-providing characters. DuVernay wields this challenge well because Ruby is not quite a saint, but she also is not put through a tribulation that contrives her fallibility.
When Ruby loosens her guard around Brian (David Oyelowo), the hunky and sensitive bus driver who flirts then courts, it can scarcely be seen as a weakness or betrayal in light of her forbearance and Derek’s misconduct. When Derek’s partner in crime, who comes around to Ruby’s place from time to time, lashes out at her for her indiscretion, it’s easy to get your hackles up in her defense. If the film seems disinterested in significantly complicating our sympathies for Ruby, it doesn’t prevent the story from being rewarding.
Because Ruby is a worldly med student who seems generally grounded in self-worth and focus that render her bound for success, it is painful to see her languishing in the beginning. And it is in scenes of her debilitating despair that we really see her weakness and become invested in her transcendence. Her relations with her mother and sister add dramatic tension that is possibly as interesting as that between Ruby and the two men she is torn between. Her sister is a single mom somewhat desperate for a man in her life. She is a kind and sympathetic character, but in a subtle way, it seems that Ruby’s predicament has lowered her to her sister’s level in terms social status.
Before, Ruby was an upwardly mobile married woman well on her way to a lucrative career. Suddenly, she became a prison wife strapped with financial difficulties. It would have been interesting to see this dynamic fleshed out further, but it is a peripheral concern of the film, with minimal tension developed between the siblings. Their mother, on the other hand, is ever ready to press them on their shortcomings, and Ruby is frustratingly flaccid in her presence.
At times, the cultural positions of the characters feels a bit muddled. Ruby is the affluent one, but it’s not clear how she differentiated herself from her family- or how Derek impacted this. Brian is the bus driver, a solid working class job, but it is Ruby who doesn’t have wheels. She is the one who frequents West LA art-house cinemas, which she thinks will be awkward for East LA Brian, yet he is the one who goes to bohemian music venues.
Of course, this is not central to an appreciation of this solid drama that will likely play at the cinemas that Ruby frequents. The script requires a lot of actress Emayatzy Corinealdi, and she navigates well the many emotions of her growing character, conveying a grace constructed of delicacy and determination.