"Middle of Nowhere," the quiet and profound film that earned publicist-turned filmmaker Ava DuVernay the prestigious Directing Award (U.S. Dramatic) at Robert Redford's 2012 Sundance Film Festival, opens today for a limited run at the UA Riverview Theatre, Columbus Boulevard and Reed Street. Omari Hardwick, one of the movie's co-stars, will be present opening night to introduce the film.
The second full-length feature by DuVernay, "Middle of Nowhere" is the story of a beautiful, smart young lady named Roberta "Ruby" Murray (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Once a talented medical student who was blissfully wed to the handsome, sexy and upwardly mobile Derek, Ruby's perfect world came crashing down when her husband was convicted of a crime and sentenced to eight years in prison, "five years with good time."
Derek says that he doesn't want his wife to waste her life waiting on him, but Ruby is optimistic and determined to make his incarceration as quick and comfortable as possible. She drops out of medical school and dedicates all of her time and effort to that end, much to the dismay of her mother Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint), who thinks that both Ruby and her sister Rosie (Edwina Findley) are wasting their lives on shiftless, no-good men. While Ruth clearly cares about her family, particularly her little grandson, Nickie (Nehemiah Sutton), she criticizes her daughters at every opportunity — to the point where Rosie doesn't even want to be around her, and will not let her babysit for Nickie.
As Ruby struggles to maintain a normal life while fighting for Derek's freedom — working in a hospital as a registered nurse everyday and visiting him in prison as often as possible — she reluctantly strikes up a friendship with the Brian (David Oyelowo), the bus driver that she rides with every day. Brian is sexy, easygoing, hardworking and funny, and soon, despite Ruby's best efforts, their friendship is teetering dangerously close to becoming much more.
"Middle of Nowhere" is an intimate study in how hard a Black woman is willing to fight for her man, but a surprising discovery about Derek completely changes Ruby's scope. The exotic Emayatzy Corinealdi is superb as Ruby. Even when she isn't speaking, her passion permeates the screen and you immediately feel empathy for her, and David Oyelowo is equally endearing as Brian. He is clearly a good man who is willing to give Ruby the time and space she needs to work out her issues.
The film also explores the fragile and often complicated mother-daughter relationship, in which a mother who wants the best for her daughters expresses that noble desire in a harsh, negative and counter-productive way that ultimately alienates them. Ruby tries to bring everyone together with a family dinner that turns out to be a disaster, and all three of the ladies turn in powerful performances.
DuVernay pulls it all together with a simple but strong, character-driven storyline that is slowly allowed to unfold, rather than forcing the action. Her writing is engaging and highly effective, and the talented cast brought her characters to life with stunning realism.
Shedding light on an issue that affects Black families across the country but receives little mention or attention, "Middle of Nowhere" is a timely and profound picture that announces Ava DuVernay as a rapidly emerging creative force. (Rated "R")
Celebrity Sound Byte: Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby: "I feel like I've been there. Ruby is the kind of woman where she is going to press through - she going to fight through. She's in medical school, her plans are to become a doctor. Every aspect of her life is very much planned and she knows how she's going to do it. She is that kind of personality to where she's going to make it happen. And so, from that point of view, sometimes, even to her own detriment maybe - like me. I've done that. You say you're going to go ahead and do something and you keep fighting through it. It may not be until you get to the other side when you realize, 'Okay...I'm by myself. I thought we were all in this together, but I'm by myself.' So I think that that's how Ruby found herself in that kind of situation."