Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trying to forge away from Middle of Nowhere

Hardwick and Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere

There is a scene in Middle of Nowhere where a mother and her two daughters sit down to have a meal and try to communicate. Years of despair and disappointment come bubbling to the surface and amicable family conversation can not be reached. The authenticity of this sad situation gobsmacked me in the face and I knew I was watching a great movie.

The film tells the story of Ruby (luminous Emayatzy Corinealdi) an LA nurse who works double shifts to live and pay the legal bills of her incarcerated husband (Omari Hardwick). It's also the story of her single mother sister (Edwina Findley), their mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and a bus driver ( David Oyelowo) who is sweet on Ruby. But mostly it's Ruby's story, how she came to where she is - giving up medical school to wait for her husband. And where she is going - can she make the choice to break free? It's not a love triangle but rather an exploration of stunted woman's choice to either go on or leading a semi life or make the choice to try for something better and scarier.

Writer director Ava DuVernay

The movie is the brain child of Ava DuVernay, who wrote, directed and even released the movie. She became the first African-American woman to win Best Director when the film debuted earlier this at the Sundance Film Festival. Hers is a major accomplishment - a quiet well observed and introspective screenplay. We get to spend a few weeks with these characters and their experiences jumped out to me as relateable and recognizable. While the movie takes painstaking lengths to get the experiences of women of incarcerated men right; to me it was more than just that one story.

As a director DuVernay coaxes out wonderful performances from her cast. Corinealdi is a real find. Ruby is a very quiet woman and Corinealdi imbues her with intelligence and world weariness but also makes you see the playful ingenue she can be or maybe was at some point. Another standout is Toussaint who is excellent at conveying years of disappointment with just a few looks. If there is a weak link it's Findley. It is as if she was in another movie that is not as good as the one I'm watching.

The story behind how DuVernay became a filmmaker and distributed her own movie is almost as fascinating as the story she presents onscreen. She used to be a publicist, then financed her first movie using $50,000 of her own savings. She formed a releasing company to ensure that her movie reaches black audiences who are looking for smart independent movies. It is encouraging that her voice is being heard and her movie seen.

Middle of Nowhere is a strong, emotionally resonant film full of lived in compelling performances. It announces Ava DuVernay as a major filmmaker.

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