The remarkably self-assured, micro-budget Middle of Nowhere, for which Ava DuVernay won the Best Director prize at Sundance, languidly follows the unraveling of a pact made in its first scene. With her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), about to begin a sentence of eight years, Ruby (played by the stunning Emayatzy Corinealdi) declares she'll drop out of medical school so she can devote herself to keeping their relationship alive in faith that he'll earn parole after five years of "good time." Skip ahead four years. With the prize so close in sight, Derek starts giving signs that he doesn't want it, forcing Ruby to question the bond to which she has held herself. This coincides with the blossoming of her attraction to bus driver Brian (David Oyelowo), but it's not as simple as swapping one mate for another; both actress and filmmaker bravely leave Ruby's feelings and intentions murky. Call this a triumph of both black and female characterization, but the truth is it's rare that any American film allows a lead character to hold contradictory emotions. The meat of the movie lies in its daringly long dialogue scenes, and a slow-motion-enhanced kiss scene, with Corinealdi in top I-don't-give-a-fuck strut, is a startling example of DuVernay's ability to conjure drama that at once takes place in a character's head and in a recognizable real world. It's beautifully nuanced and confidently ambiguous—and so is the movie.
Ava DuVernayDavid Oyelowo, Tracie Thoms, Sharon Lawrence, Omari Hardwick, Dondre Whitfield, Lorraine Toussaint, Maya Gilbert, Edwina Findley, Emayatzy E. Corinealdi, Bob RumnockAva DuVernayAva DuVernay, Howard BarishAFFRM