Middle of Nowhere
Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Dondre Whitfield, Lorraine Toussaint, Sharon Lawrence
R for some language
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Could you suffer through a loved one’s incarceration while permitting your own life to pass you by? Ava DuVernay’s new film Middle of Nowhere explores the sacrifice of a young woman whose happiness is controlled by her unswerving devotion.
Emayatzy Corinealdi delivers a stunning breakthrough performance as Ruby, a brilliant and beautiful young woman whose promising career in the medical field is cut short by the arrest and imprisonment of her husband Derek (Omari Hardwick). Derek was involved in the drug trade during their relationship and the starry-eyed doctoral student was caught up in love with him in spite of his flaws.
The film opens shortly before Derek is to be released from his eight-year prison sentence. Ruby has quit her studies to become a full-time nurse in order to survive, making weekly trips to the prison to visit her husband. Although the story suggests Derek still loves Ruby, Hardwick’s stiff performance almost betrays that concept. In his few scenes, he’s passive and unsupportive. This could be explained that he recognizes that he is partly responsible for her inability to move on by becoming distant and emotionally unavailable, going so far at one point to take reveal an affair he’s had and getting himself in trouble to increase his prison sentence.
While Ruby attempts to rationalize her impressions of the man she loves with what he is now presenting her, she meets a charming bus driver named Brian (David Oyelowo) who wants to get to know her better. Here’s where Cornealdi shines, rebuffing Brian’s advances in spite of his charm offensive, perhaps realizing that he’s using similar techniques Derek did to nab her in the first place. It’s masked as a facade of trust and fidelity, but she allows that image to crumble as she discovers the true Derek at work.
Will she get involved with Brian as a way to get back at Derek or will doing so help alleviate her internal fears and insecurities. All of this is carried out as Ruby faithfully works to free her husband whose promised release is pushed back and a legal quagmire emerges that forces her to spend more money she doesn’t have to re-hire the attorney that originally represented him, not even able to afford the original payments she had contracted. It’s nice to see how this financial mess is handled in the film, but it seems almost superfluous to the narrative at hand. You can make a film about finding love and dealing with emotional abandonment in the midst of poverty and financial crisis, but the way DuVernay handles it here is almost as if she’s constructing two different films that don’t quite unite the way she expects.
Oyelowo delivers a strong supporting performance as does Lorraine Touissant as Ruby’s forceful and self-righteous mother. Toussaint doesn’t have a lot to work with and her frequent indignation might otherwise be distracting, but her performance is honest. It showcases how parents have vast experience that might prevent the pain their children suffer, but that even when they are right, the way they present their experience can often be as devastating as what they are trying to do.
Corinealdi handles the lead quite well and surpasses many of her contemporaries in terms of emotional vulnerability and mental fortitude. The strength of her performance is such that a stellar career in mainstream films could be had if she chooses her roles carefully, but keeps true to her artistic roots. Her performance in Middle of Nowhere could be seen as a positive, but the wrong career trajectory, like that of her character, could be disastrous. She needs to go where her emotions lead her, not where others think she should go.
Middle of Nowhere, in spite of its poor marketing and niche potential, is a film that could speak to a broad cross-section of the population if given the opportunity. And even if it isn’t your thing, see it for Corinealdi’s performance anyway.
April 11, 2013