Effective humanistic dramas are often difficult to find. They are the rare gems that don't always receive the amount of attention that they deserve. There are far too many films with such an immense amount of in-depth character studies that the filmmakers forget to make something that will actually hold the attention of the viewers. If we're expected to watch an entire film revolving around one character, then there should be an interesting story to be told that will make us actually care what happens to this character. Middle of Nowhere might not be one of those extremely rare gems, but it's better than a lot of the other humanistic dramas that are so commonly released through film festivals.
Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is a bright medical student who puts her hopes and dreams aside when her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is incarcerated. The committed couple agrees to hold out for each other through the eight-year prison sentence. However, Ruby becomes consumed with shame and sadness as the separation from her husband deeply affects her. She later learns that she must begin living another life where she can chase her own future, even if that means with somebody else, as she begins to date Brian (David Oyelowo). Ruby finds herself unable to choose between the two men as she tries to find herself.
Director/writer Ava DuVernay has written a screenplay that is patient with its characters and its storytelling, but expects that same patience from its audience. The pacing moves slowly, which may repel some moviegoers. However, Middle of Nowhere manages to develop its lead character very well. Ruby is the type of character that audiences will genuinely care about. She draws you in and keeps you engaged in her story until the pacing begins to slow again. Unfortunately, there are a heavy amount of unnecessarily drawn-out scenes. Instead of these wandering shots, DuVernay should have expanded more on the relationship between Ruby and her family.
While the concept of Middle of Nowhere is good, there are times where the film drags and stumbles to get back up. The execution of this woman's journey could have been stronger. The dialogue ranges from passable to decent, but never shines as bright as the characters themselves. The writing falls off a little bit during the conversations between Ruby and Brian. Some of their interactions are only there for dramatic purposes instead of feeling like a natural story element. With the exception of the lead character, this script doesn't do many favors for the remainder of the roles. The details of Derek's arrest are few and far between, which becomes a constant frustration throughout the film. While Ruby is developed quite nicely, it's a let-down that the same treatment isn't applied towards the rest of the characters and plot points.
Middle of Nowhere would not be what it is without its cast. Emayatzy Corinealdi is absolutely brilliant as Ruby. She's so incredibly convincing in this role and is able to make her character so personal. Corinealdi has delivered an Oscar-worthy performance here. I look forward to seeing what she does next. Omari Hardwick plays Derek. While we only see him when Ruby goes to visit him in prison, he manages to be believable and plays off of Corinealdi quite well. David Oyelowo delivers a solid performance as Brian. The screenplay has certainly hindered him, but he still does a decent job with the character.
The atmosphere isn't inventive, as it's used in a lot of Sundance features, but it's used effectively here. Middle of Nowhere has a certain amount of grit in its presentation that enhances the overall moviegoing experience. All of Ruby's experiences are represented well through the visuals. The film's soundtrack is composed of R&B songs that compliment the mood. While I wasn't too fond of some of DuVernay's stylistic decisions, such as the long pauses, the visuals work well with the nature of the film with its cinematography, color timing, and music.
While writer/director Ava DuVernay hasn't delivered a dramatic gem with this film, she has developed a character that viewers will be able to connect with. Under her direction, Emayatzy Corinealdi provides a superb performance as Ruby. Whether or not you like this film, you'll be able to appreciate the acting. Middle of Nowhere could have been one of those humanistic dramas that has the ability to immerse its viewers with its storytelling, but the pacing is far too slow. There are too many extended scenes that should have been trimmed. This isn't worth paying full ticket price for and you won't find yourself wanting to watch it again, but it's worth seeing once. Rent it.