Predictable but enjoyable setup
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, October 12, 2012
There are two really nice things about “Middle of Nowhere,” a romantic melodrama about a woman struggling to cope with life after her husband is imprisoned. They’re enough to elevate the film above its somewhat by-the-numbers plot and add a little juice to its slightly sluggish forward momentum.
The main one is the nuanced, heartfelt performance of Emayatzy Corinealdi as the heroine, Ruby, a nurse whose dreams of becoming a doctor are derailed when her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is sent to prison for eight years. Because of the distance of the correctional facility from Ruby’s home, and the time it takes to visit Derek, Ruby cannot afford the necessary time -- or energy -- to devote to her studies.
As Derek, Hardwick is fine, but the film isn’t really about him. He’s an unpleasant character anyway, and as the film progresses, it becomes a real mystery what Ruby ever saw in him, other than his smoldering good looks.
The other nice thing about the film is the performance of David Oyelowo as Brian, the gentle, handsome, friendly bus driver who notices Ruby on the bus to and from the hospital where she works. His character is a charmer, but so is the actor, who has been making good, nuanced impressions -- and showcasing a nice range -- in such recent films as “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “The Paperboy.”
It isn’t hard to do the math here: Ruby + Brian - Derek = romance. The setup is predictable, if fraught with a couple of narrative speed bumps, but Corinealdi and Oyelowo are appealing enough to make the journey to the inevitable conclusion an enjoyable one. Their scenes together are the film’s greatest pleasures.
Less appealing is Lorraine Toussaint as Ruby’s mother, Ruth. She has a dour, strident presence, constantly nagging and criticizing Ruby for the choices she’s made in her life, but Toussaint can’t seem to find a way to make Ruth anything more than a plot device. She has to be a jerk, I suppose, so that Ruby has something to play off of.
That also likely explains the hardness and one-dimensionality of Hardwick’s Derek, as well as the tough, unattractive personalities that are all too apparent in several other characters that Ruby has to deal with. Her sister Rosie (Edwina Findley), along with Derek’s ex, Gina (Maya Gilbert), and his lawyer, Fraine (Sharon Lawrence), are all presented more as troublesome foils for Ruby to overcome than as complex, three-dimensional people.
It’s a limitation of the story (by writer-director Ava DuVernay), but it’s not an insurmountable one. That’s because the filmmaker, despite the familiarity of her film's romantic formula, makes good use of two not-so-secret ingredients.
Contains some crude language.