Middle of Nowhere | Movie review
A Sundance-winning drama looks at incarceration from the outside.
In the opening scene, Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) promises she’ll be there for her imprisoned husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick). If it means being nearer to him, she’ll stay in Compton, even holding off on med school. On a subsequent visit, Ruby notices his gang tattoos, but she ignores them. Indeed, she hand-waves all the warnings—including Derek’s admonition not to get her hopes up—that the man she’s waiting for might not make parole. An early release is what she’s planning on. That’s what they’re planning on together. Right?
The first half of Middle of Nowhere is a film we haven’t quite seen before: It looks at incarceration from the outside, following Ruby’s growing estrangement from her husband. She struggles to wait for a man who, she believes, has paid his debts. In the meantime, work obligations, family strains, Derek’s past associates and exorbitant (perhaps exploitative) legal fees begin to take their toll. The cautious advances of a bus driver (David Oyewolo), who transports Ruby to the prison and seems to pay her more attention than Derek does, suddenly suggest an alternate path.
Middle of Nowhere won Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow) a directing prize at Sundance, and it’s easy to see why. Like In the Family, her film takes its time and leaves uncommon room for nuance, knowing that life rarely offers clear-cut paths. Corinealdi gives a performance of enormous subtlety, allowing pauses and glances to do much of the heavy lifting. A plot twist eventually sends the film into more conventional find-thyself territory, though, culminating in a closing voiceover that seems like exactly the sort of earnest contrivance most of the movie so deftly avoids.