This beautifully acted and gradually revealed drama is a quiet discovery. Not one to blare its own horn, Middle of Nowhere is the kind of little indie film that gives little indie films a good name. It’s one black woman’s story – a story about being stuck in time due to dreams and commitments that may not still be viable. Her inertia, at times, feels almost palpable – a tribute to the filmmaker’s skill and confidence rather than a knock on her storytelling abilities. Ruby (Corinealdi) is truly a woman in the middle of nowhere.
Sparse with background information, the film opens in a prison visiting room as Ruby is discussing with her husband Derek (Hardwick), who has just been sentenced to an eight-year stretch, how she plans to quit medical school for the duration of his sentence. Derek opposes the plan, but Ruby feels it will keep her more focused on the preservation of their marriage so that there remains something for him to return home to. The nature of his crime isn’t revealed until much later in the movie, making it difficult for the viewer to decide whether Ruby’s goals are sensible or foolhardy. Ruby continues to work as a nurse, and is kept company by her sister Rose (Findley), a single mother for whom Ruby frequently babysits, and her mother Ruth (Toussaint – a veteran actress who spars with these girls as if they were her own daughters). After years of routine, Brian (Oyelowo), a kind and sensitive man, eventually breaks through Ruby’s emotional barriers and provides her stasis with the push it needs to stop marking time and start living.
Writer/director Ava DuVernay won a best director’s award at Sundance for Middle of Nowhere, a prize that seems fitting for the sort of film that has the kind of gravity and authority that sneaks up on the viewer. At first, you wait for the film to open itself to you, but after a while you realize that you have been drawn in to Ruby’s predicament as surely as she is. Corinealdi is captivating despite her inertia, and the actress deserves wider visibility. DuVernay surrounds her with a terrific cast, too, all of whom should be heralded for plunging into this bare-bones drama with everything they’ve got. They are all talents we should hear a lot more from. Soon.