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Middle of Nowhere
The film follows Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who is patiently waiting for the day when her husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) will be released from prison. He is serving an eight-year sentence, but she is confident that he will be paroled for five years and good behavior. As the film opens, he's done four of those years without incident, and she has maintained a schedule, taking the bus out to Victorville where they can speak and even hug but are forbidden from being any more intimate with each other. She longs for him, constantly imagining his presence in her kitchen, in her bed, surrounding her body. In the meantime, she spends time helping her sister Rosie (Edwina Findley), who is raising her son Nickie (Nehemiah Sutton) on her own, and trying to avoid the critical eye of their mother, Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint).
Part of the reason the film is a hard sell is because the conflict is almost intangible. What Ruby struggles with is the awareness that Derek's mistakes have had an effect on her life, that his imprisonment has brought her dreams and ambitions to a grinding halt. In a brief prologue on the first day of Derek's sentence, he pleads with her to forget about him, to continue with her med school classes. She is adamant that she will be there for him, something which she feels is the right thing to do for their marriage and for his state of mind, but her idea of steadying a rocking boat actually changes everything. The friction between Ruby and her mother all stems from decisions she's made that relate to Derek. The time she spends on buses and working as a night nurse in a hospital take a physical toll on her. She is a shell of a person, having hitched her state of well-being to another person.
We are not privy to those first four years, because they're a holding pattern. Ruby is waiting, slowly paying off the fancy lawyer (Sharon Lawrence) who took their case despite needing to spread the cost out over a payment plan. When things change, they change in a hurry. Derek becomes eligible for parole at an inopportune moment, putting pressure on Ruby to stretch herself in order to help him and be there for him. At the same time, one of Ruby's bus drivers, Brian (David Oyelowo), starts pursuing her. She pulls back, but four years of physical distance between herself and her husband are taking their toll on her. In these moments, the film rests comfortably upon Corinealdi's shoulders, whose tight-lipped smile and desperate eyes are often all the action necessary for a given scene.
In keeping with Corinealdi's performance, DuVernay's direction seems to endeavor only to put the viewer into Ruby's head. Another aspect of the movie that simply will not translate in a two-minute trailer is the clarity of perspective from which DuVernay tells the story. At no point do we leave Ruby's point of view, something that many filmmakers would struggle with. She is able to convey complex emotional ideas with an incredible simplicity by filtering everything through Ruby: at the beginning, we are shown intimate snippets of her memories of Derek, and they seem to fill her whole world. Later, we see the same snippets, and they feel truncated and fleeting. In another moment, the camera holds on Ruby staring into the distance, lost in thought, before turning to reveal she is not alone. By all accounts, Selma is an ambitious, almost epic undertaking, bringing together a massive cast and an incredible amount of historical information into a sharp, driven narrative. Middle of Nowhere is at the opposite end of the spectrum: an incredibly subtle portrait of a single person's conflicts.
Lionsgate's art for Middle of Nowhere is fine, if generic (Corinealdi's face in profile with Oyelowo and Hardwick on opposing sides), but it ends up feeling cramped with all the text layered on it. A bit more of a buffer zone on all four sides would've improved things greatly. The one-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Amaray case, with an insert advertising other Codeblack DVD releases, and a second offering an SD UltraViolet digital copy.
The Video and Audio
Lionsgate's 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Middle of Nowhere is exemplary. Many may be disappointed to hear that after a two-year wait for the film to get a home video release, a Blu-ray edition is not on the cards, but the standard-def presentation actually handles the needs of DuVernay's film with ease. The movie takes place in a number of dim and moody environments, yet no signs of banding or artifacts ever crop up. A handsome fine grain pattern on par with a Blu-ray disc coats the image, and the softness of the details within are expertly rendered. Colors are often muted but appear to be accurate, with bright daytime sequences returning the palette to "normal." If I hadn't known I'd received a DVD, I might've guessed that this was HD.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is less mind-boggling but more than adequate for the task at hand. Much of the movie consists of quiet dialogue scenes, with the occasional element of music or ambient noise to round out the soundscape. The scene where Corinealdi and Oyelowo dance to a local DJ is enveloping and slightly hypnotic, and the sound of Corinealdi reading a poem has a crisp, natural ring to it. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing (which, weirdly, translate the film's few on-screen captions despite them being burned in) and Spanish subtitles are also included.
The disc's sole extra is a jovial audio commentary by writer / director Ava DuVernay and actor Emayatzy Corinealdi. The duo haven't seen each other in awhile and have a ball revisiting the film after a year and change, giggling about the pimple on Corinealdi's face, reminiscing about the film's au naturel production design, and recalling the occasional visual idea or thematic point. Race and gender issues in filmmaking are also touched on, although DuVernay generally tends to focus on the positive rather than remind people of the industry's deep and frustrating bias. There are some gaps when the pair end up watching the film rather than talking about it, and it's not the most informative track, but fans of the film will likely enjoy just hearing the director and her leading lady taking pleasure in each other's company.
Middle of Nowhere is a low-key but impressive film, capturing intimate details of one woman's struggle to regain control over her own life. Armed with an exceptional presentation and a fun commentary, this release is highly recommended.
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