'Middle of Nowhere' premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival and didn't exactly light the festival crowd on fire. The biggest reason for that, it has been said, is the fact that it doesn't fall into one of the two categories of movies that tend to get huge buzz out of Sundance. It isn't a visually innovative bordering in the fantastical (i.e. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Take Shelter) or a quirky dramedy (i.e. Little Miss Sunshine, Safety Not Guaranteed). It is now in limited release in the U.S. and has been praised by critics for being a movie made by and about african americans that isn't either Precious or a Tyler Perry comedy.
In that regard, 'Middle of Nowhere' is undoubtedly worthy of praise. Director Ava DuVernay's sophomore feature stars Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby, a woman who drops out of med-school after her husband is sentenced to eight years in prison. She wants to concentrate on her husband's well-being and good behavior in order to reduce the sentence to five years. In that sense, the title of the movie refers to Ruby's state, as she seizes to exist in order to try to get back to a place in her life where everything seemed to be working out.
The movie is more than anything a character study, with Corinealdi sporting out a terrific performance as Ruby, but it also has a strong thematic focus that ends up being one of its biggest strengths. The movie presents a facet of relationship drama that hadn't really been explored very much in the past. Usually, once a character is in prison, he is either evil or unjustly convicted. The wife of the character either easily ignores him or does whatever it takes to prove his innocence. I think that has a lot to do with the patriarcal society we live in and the extent into which we have restrained the types of female character that we will accept to watch on screen. Luckily, DuVernay presents us with many shades of grey and relevant questions about morality and the foundation of marriage.
The movie is successful in asking the questions, but not so much in the way it asks them. For such an original point of view, the dialogue is too often tediously sugary and the storyline somewhat simplistic (especially in the final outcome). DuVernay is also intensely focused in presenting us with a series of visuals that represent Ruby's state of mind during her daily rituals. There is far more than a couple of such moments, where the contemplative nature of the sequence turns the movie slow-moving to a fault, which I can only guess will displease a lot of audiences. Corinealdi can do an impressive work to communicate with only her face, but just because you close up on her doesn't mean you're necessarily saying something. An even more interesting movie could have been made if instead of focusing so much in these silent sequences, DuVernay had use the time to explore the questions, instead of just asking them.