Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere is the story of a woman who drops out of med school to deal with her husband’s prison sentence that leads her to a journey of self-discovery. The film is a study of a woman dealing with not just the actions of her husband but also some things about herself forcing her to find her own path. Starring Emayatzy Corinealdi, Omari Hardwick, Edwina Findley, Sharon Lawrence, David Oyelowo, and Lorraine Toussaint. Middle of Nowhere is a somber and compelling film from Ava DuVernay.
Following events that lead to her husband’s criminal activities which forces him to serve 8 years in prison, the film follows a woman who is trying to live her life while often visiting her husband who is getting a chance to be paroled. It is a film that explores a woman who had a lot going for her only for her life to fall apart as she drops out of med school and works as a nurse at a local hospital while taking care of her nephew for her sister who is struggling to find work on her own. Ava DuVernay’s screenplay does follow a straightforward narrative yet it is really more of a character study of this woman in Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) who is a registered nurse a local hospital in Southern California as her husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) is serving about to serve his fifth year in an eight-year prison sentence as the news of him getting a parole brings joy for Ruby.
Yet, there are some complications for that to happen where Ruby asks her mother Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint) for help in getting their attorney Alberta Fraine (Sharon Lawrence) to help out despite her busy schedule. The script doesn’t just play into Ruby’s own dedication to helping out her husband while doing what she can to help her family but also in sacrificing aspects of her own life including what she wanted as her mother feels disappointed that Ruby never finished med school. The film’s second half involves Ruby spending time with a bus driver in Brian (David Oyelowo) whom Ruby sees on her route to work all the time as it play into revelations about her husband’s activities in prison that also relates to why he went to prison. For Ruby, the film’s second half is about a journey into herself and all of the sacrifices she made for her husband as it has her questioning many aspects of her life while spending some time with Brian.
DuVernay’s direction does bear some style in terms of its presentation of montages and flashbacks yet much of her direction is largely straightforward as it is shot on location in various areas in Los Angeles. While there are some wide shots in the film to get a scope of the prison exterior, much of DuVernay’s direction is intimate in its usage of medium shots and close-ups. Notably in the scenes where Ruby arrives in prison as she goes through a routine to enter to meet Derek as well as what she does every day where she works the night shift as a nurse. DuVernay also maintains this air of claustrophobia in her close-ups as it play into Ruby’s own world coming apart as she is trying to get her husband released for his parole hearing as well as the pressures from her family. DuVernay’s compositions do add that air of drama but also some light-hearted moments that include scenes where Ruby spends time with her sister Rosie (Edwina Findley) and her son Nickie (Nehemiah Sutton) as well as a scene in the third act where Ruby and Brian go see an art house movie that confuses the latter. Still, DuVernay does play into some of the dramatic suspense such as the parole hearing in the film’s second act that is a key moment in the film that changes everything for Ruby.
The second act does play more into DuVernay’s claustrophobic presentation in some of the dramatic moments as does the third act in a scene where Ruby, Rosie, and Nickie are having a quiet dinner with Ruth that is filled with a lot of tension. DuVernay also play up into the decisions Ruby is making for herself with those such as Derek’s friend Rashad (Troy Curvey III) who discovers what Ruby is doing with Brian as he threatens to tell Derek. It does play into this decision that Ruby needed to make for herself even though she still loves Derek despite all of the shit he put her through. Overall, DuVernay crafts a mesmerizing and compelling film about a woman dealing with her identity and her relationship with her incarcerated husband.
Cinematographer Bradford Young does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of available and low-key natural lighting for many of the exterior and interior scenes in the day as well as using little lighting for some of the scenes at night to give it a sense of realism. Editor Spencer Averick does excellent work with the film’s editing as it is straightforward with a few montages and jump-cuts where the latter is for dramatic reasons. Production designer Claudia Roque does fantastic work with the look of the home that Ruby lives in as well as Ruth’s own home as it play into this world of modesty but also what Ruby has to live with from the life she used to have.
Costume designer Stacy Beverly does nice work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward including some of the expensive clothes she wore for the parole hearing. Sound editor Kunal Rajan does terrific work with the sound as it is straightforward but also to capture the hollow textures of the prison rooms as well as the exterior scenes in the streets. The film’s music by Kathryn Bostic is wonderful as it is a largely ambient-based score that play into the drama while music supervisor Morgan Rhodes creates a soundtrack that features elements of hip-hop, R&B, and indie including cuts from Little Dragon, Afua Richardson & Alexa Edmonds Lima, Jimi James, Goapele, J Mitchell & Melodious Fly, Aybee featuring Omega, Fink, Natalie Gardiner, Trek Life & Oddisee, the Nonce, and Spektrum.
The casting by Aisha Coley is remarkable as it feature some notable small roles from Maya Dunbar as a former girlfriend of Derek in Gina who confronts Ruby early in the film, Troy Curvey III as Derek’s friend Rashad who is not happy with Ruby’s social activities, Nehemiah Sutton as Rosie's’ son Nickie who is fond of Ruby and asks when his uncle is coming home, and Sharon Lawrence in a terrific small role as the attorney Alberta Fraine who arrives for the parole hearing despite her ever-busy schedule. Edwina Findley is superb as Rosie as Ruby’s sister who is trying to find work as she also deals with Ruby’s own situation knowing that Derek did a lot to hurt her. Lorraine Toussaint is excellent as Ruby and Rosie’s mother Ruth as a woman who spends time taking care of her grandson while lamenting over the unfulfilled promises that her daughters had including Ruby whom she felt was meant for so much more.
David Oyelowo is brilliant as Brian as a bus driver whose bus Ruby rides as he befriends her at a party and later meet her at another party as the two begin a relationship despite knowing that she’s married and he’s divorced with a child while offering her something stable. Omari Hardwick is amazing as Derek as Ruby’s incarcerated husband who is serving an eight-year sentence as he is given a chance to be paroled where he finds himself doing things as well as keeping secrets from Ruby that puts his chance to be released in jeopardy. Finally, there’s Emayatzy Corinealdi in an incredible performance as Ruby as a former med student who works as a registered nurse at a local hospital that is desperate to try and get her husband out while dealing with the things she sacrificed her life as it is a fierce and somber performance as it play into the sacrifices of a woman who lost part of her life due to her love for her husband.
Middle of Nowhere is a marvelous film from Ava DuVernay that features a phenomenal leading performance from Emayatzy Corinealdi. Along with its ensemble cast, character study, naturalist visuals, and its haunting music score. The film is definitely a compelling drama that explores a woman who is trying to get her husband home but also deal with the sacrifices she made for herself. In the end, Middle of Nowhere is a remarkable film from Ava DuVernay.
Ava DuVernay Films: (This is the Life (2008 film)) – (I Will Follow) – Selma - 13th (2016 film) - (A Wrinkle in Time (2018 film))
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