We're proud to share with you below some of the reviews AaFFRM's MIDDLE OF NOWHERE has received. But don't take their word for it. See the film for yourself in select cities starting October 12.
Manohla Dargis, New York Times:
The writer and director Ava DuVernay is after something exquisitely simple in “Middle of Nowhere”: she wants you to look, really look, at her characters. Mostly, Ms. DuVernay, who won the directing award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, wants you to look at Ruby, a lonely young nurse (Emayatzy Corinealdi), whose husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is serving time. A plaintive, slow-boiling, quietly soul-stirring drama about a woman coming into her own, “Middle of Nowhere” carries the imprimatur of Sundance, but without the dreary stereotypes or self-satisfied politics that can (at times unfairly) characterize its offerings. The journey is hard in Ms. DuVernay‘s movie, as well as politically freighted, but also more complex than it might initially seem…. Ms. DuVernay takes her time with Ruby, a circumspect, retiring character whose story surfaces in realistic conversations, and in phone calls and visits to the prison. Seemingly friendless, she lives alone in a small, dimly lighted, somewhat emptied out apartment that feels almost abandoned. In a sense that’s precisely what it has become. Ruby, having single-mindedly dedicated herself to her husband for years — she has a thick file of documents that testifies to the time she’s served for him — has essentially abandoned her home and herself. About the only other person in her life, aside from Derek and Ruth, is her sister, Rosie (Edwina Findley), a single mother with a young son. As you watch Ruby with her nephew, it’s clear that she hasn’t entirely let go of her life, but instead put it on long-term pause. With her director of photography, Bradford Young, who brings soft beauty to every image, Ms. DuVernay uses long shots, a shallow depth of field and punctuating close-ups of Ruby to put her existential and physical isolation into visual terms. There’s a haunted stillness to the character, which the camera, even hand-held, persuasively expresses. Time and again, you see Ruby looking out at the world through windows while riding to work and the prison, and every so often you also see what she sees, like a bus driver, Brian (a terrific David Oyelowo). Brian notices Ruby and in doing so surprises her. She’s forgotten all about herself, even as Ms. DuVernay, from start to finish in this very fine movie, works to make sure that Ruby is a woman to remember.
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times:
To say that "Middle of Nowhere," winner of Sundance's coveted directing award for writer-director Ava DuVernay, sheds long-overdue light on infrequently explored aspects of African American life is true as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. For the truth is that it is uncommon to see serious adult dramas this moving and accomplished, so attuned to real people and their complex, recognizable emotions, no matter the racial makeup of the characters involved. So though it echoes the films of Charles Burnett, the plays of August Wilson and "A Raisin in the Sun," at its heart "Middle of Nowhere" is old-school, character-driven narrative at its most quietly effective. This realistic story of what happens to a wife and a marriage when a husband is sent to prison takes its subject too seriously to oversell it. DuVernay's deeply involving script understands that ordinary life can be a hard, difficult business from which no one emerges untroubled or unscathed. Key to making "Middle of Nowhere" so effective is how DuVernay makes her film a showcase for strong work by a skilled ensemble (Aisha Coley did the casting), with special mention inevitably going to Emayatzy Corinealdi playing Ruby, the wife in question.DuVernay's story opens with Ruby on an early morning bus headed from Los Angeles to what feels literally like the middle of nowhere, the federal prison in Victorville, where her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is incarcerated. It takes quite a while to find out why Derek is inside, because the nature of his crime is not what's important here. Rather the focus is on the couple's relationship and, gradually, on a different kind of journey that Ruby is making, the classic one of self-actualization, of finding yourself when you feel emotionally in the middle of nowhere, a journey that allows for no shortcuts or easy answers. From the beginning, it's clear that the bond between Ruby and Derek is not to be simply summarized. There is real love here but also frustration born not only of personalities but also of the different ways men and women perceive what they should and should not be doing in relationships… The only people Ruby has let into her life during Derek's absence are her sister Rosie (Edwina Findley) — a single parent who is tireless in pursuit of enjoyment for herself and Ruby — and their mother, the unnerving Ruth. Persuasively played by Lorraine Toussaint, Ruth takes your breath away. Acerbic, difficult and always on everyone's case, Ruth is a pitiless teller of truths who feels betrayed when her bitter honesty causes her children to push her away. A more compelling supporting part will not be seen this year. With all this as backdrop, two things happen that upend Ruby's world. The possibility arises that Derek may qualify for early parole and, simultaneously, another man tries to find footing in her life. That would be Brian, delicately played by David Oyelowo in a role very different from his work in "The Paperboy." The sweet-natured Brian is one of the bus drivers on the route Ruby takes home from her hospital work, and when he bumps into her in a more social situation, the attraction he feels toward her is palpable. Though "Middle of Nowhere" is very much a character piece, it benefits from some intricate plotting, and going where you think it will go is not on this film's mind. When you question everything about yourself, Ruby has to ask, what do you have to hold onto? We don't often have films that ask questions like these or ones that answer them as effectively.
Nathan Heller, VOGUE:
In Middle of Nowhere, a striking gem of a new movie written and directed by Ava DuVernay, Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is a young bride working odd hours as a nurse to make ends meet while her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), serves an eight-year sentence in a prison two hours away. Middle of Nowhere is only DuVernay’s second feature film, but it shows a nearly virtuosic control. From its sharp, frank, admirably low-key script to the patient development of character, the film is something all too rare in the twenty-first-century movie house: a domestic drama that’s surprising and alive without being overwrought, a movie about disappointment and uncertainty that is not a histrionic downward-spiral story but a tale of compromise and tempered hope. Characters here seem to exist not for the camera but in spite of it; the movie, which begins in medias res and ends just as indeterminately, is elegantly paced without suffering from the tidiness, and the story that it traces bleeds both back and forward from the moments we see on-screen. With help from her director of photography, Bradford Young, DuVernay has wrought a camera style that’s smart and energetic—filming through glass doors to evoke distance, shifting pointedly between foreground and background in the conversational two-shot, and, in one stunning scene, slowly approaching the backseat of the bus where Ruby and her driver meet—without falling into the mannered or faux-vérité camerawork. In that sense, the visual poise of the movie (which earned DuVernay the directing award at Sundance) is a match with its storyline: unostentatious, delicate, and lit in the familiar hues of its semi-suburban everywheres. The setting matters, after all. Ruby and her family are consummate in-betweeners, members of the striving upper reaches of L.A.’s lower middle class who work in the wan the shadow of Hollywood, which is nonetheless a world apart. (It comes as a relief, in fact, to find a movie about middle-class aspiration in L.A. that’s so impervious to the presence of the industry; the standard version of this story—even in a fully conceived work like Drive—becomes a vehicle for Hollywood’s own mythmaking.) And in bringing their quiet dreaming to life, DuVernay has help from a strong cast of largely unknown actors. Toussaint is quietly haunting as the middle-aged mother who wishes she’d done it all differently, while Hardwick, a large, undercooked steak of a man, is menacing and vulnerable in equal measure. David Oyelowo is incredibly inviting as his reverse. Yet the revelation here is Corinealdi, an actress who manages to capture the tidal flows of her character’s strength and weakness with a range of quick-changing expressions, and who brings a strange, inviting intimacy to a role that is, until the final moments of the film, fearful and cautiously aloof. If there’s justice in this world, Middle of Nowhere, one of the most controlled and masterly movies to appear this year, will serve as a launching pad for the skilled talent it features. But perhaps we shouldn’t hope for too much: Justice, after all, the movie tells us, can be an uncertain and, at times, surprisingly unsettling thing.
Jason Bailey, The Atlantic:
DuVernay (who also wrote the script) is less interested in plot mechanics than the emotional landscape of these characters. We get to know something of not just Ruby and Derek and Brian, but of Ruby's mother (Lorraine Toussaint), who regards her daughter with a mixture of love and disappointment, and her sister (Edwina Findley), who's got problems of her own. The story may be simple, but nothing in it is: These relationships are nuanced and complicated, and most scenes have two or thee levels of text and subtext happening in them, various (sometimes conflicting) messages in what's being said and what's being skipped. Corinealdi is an actress previously unknown to me, but she has tremendous presence and knows how to engage the camera, which seems particularly tuned to the tiny displays of fear and regret that occasionally flicker across her warm, compassionate face. The character's dedication to a possibly/probably doomed relationship could be played as weakness, but she goes the other way—she will make this work and will not be told otherwise, and thus when things falls apart, it's all the more devastating. The way she finds her footing after that is where the movie's real power lies, and when she says, near the end, "This is not how we're supposed to be living," the directness and honesty of her words is remarkable. Hardwick's beats are somewhat more limited, but he does sadly stoic well, and Oyelowo (one of the many gifted performers cast adrift in the lamentable Paperboy) has one tremendous scene, where he the desperation rises in his voice as he asks Ruby, "We've got something here, don't we?... DuVernay's direction is stylish but not distracting. She does some subtle, Soderbergh-ian intercutting of scenes to great effect, and adds in touches of magic realism in Ruby's moments alone, as she imagines her absent husband by her side or in her bed. As a storyteller, she has an interesting way of parsing out information without seeming to keep anything from us, and we trust her. Her command of tone is astonishing. The last beat with Derek, for instance, mixes heartbreak and eroticism in a way I've never seen onscreen.
Sasha Stone, Awards Daily:
Yet another delightful surprise has dropped in the lap of Oscar this year in Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere. You’ve probably never seen a film like this, I know I never have. DuVernay has crafted vibrant, original, flawed and interesting female characters who are trying to find their own way in life out from underneath the shadow of the men they’ve depended on. This is a story about a slow moving journey out of a trap. The main character Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is torn between two competing forces in her life. It isn’t a choice to pick between two men, though that’s what it seems like in the trailer. It is actually deeper than that — it’s about the choice between looking out for herself and her own future or continuing to try to make a troubled marriage work. It’s an interesting question because there isn’t an easy answer — it is a struggle, a conflict. Ruby has choices in life but none of them are easy ones. The magic in DuVernay’s writing and filmmaking is that it feels like you’re driving down a familiar road but every turn, every stop sign leads to something unexpected. You think Ruby’s mom is going to be the typical black inner-city grandmother — one extreme or another — either the soul-food cooking earth mama or the drug-addicted narcissist. She is neither. She is someone who has lived a life. A long and painful life that has altered her perspective. But the more she tries to talk to her daughters the less they want to hear what she has to say. She’s complex, not easily pinned down as one cliche or another — she’s a person, a complex human being. Imagine that. As a beautiful young woman, Ruby has her pick of men. Corinealdi is one of the most exciting things to happen to film in a while — this film should launch her career. If it doesn’t, people aren’t paying enough attention. The two male supporting characters are really great — David Oyelowo and Omari Hardiwck. They both seem to represent different paths she could take — and yet she is also faced with an even more challenging one — devotion to the love of her life, following her heart vs. medical school, cashing in on her intelligence. How do you do complete yourself and as individual and still make a marriage work? Even if the men support you in what you’re doing how do you support yourself? How do you change the focus of your life? To that end, Middle of Nowhere is revolutionary in its storytelling. It is haunting, unexpected, deeply erotic at times and ultimately the kind of thing that only comes around once in a decade. DuVernay is changing the landscape of filmmaking, as some other filmmakers have done this year — Benh Zeitlin, Lena Dunham, and Sarah Polley. But DuVernay is doing something different. To watch a scene where three women are trying to communicate with each other, trying to do right by the one little man in their lives, Ruby’s nephew, who depends on them for everything (all of the men are gone) is a reality many of us live with every day and yet is never explored in film. You won’t see a single cliched character in this film and these three women I know. I know them in life yet I’ve never seen them in film . Why? Because black women in film have to be one or the other — they have to be all good or all bad but never actually fully fleshed out human beings. DuVernay gives us that and does it without wagging her finger at our warped society. She simply tells Ruby’s complex story with vivid imagery, subtle detail and genuine emotion. That Middle of Nowhere was written and directed by a woman is cause to celebrate and lets us see a brighter future not just for female storytellers but American film.
Tim Grierson, Backstage
The superb “Middle of Nowhere” won the directing award for writer-director Ava DuVernay at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and after seeing the film it’s clear that the jury singled her out not because of stylistic filmmaking flourishes—the movie is visually muted—but because of her skill at establishing tone and working with actors. The drama focuses on Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a working-class nurse determined to stand by her husband (Omari Hardwick) while he serves an eight-year prison sentence. So begins a sensitive, intimate character study as we watch Ruby interact with her bitter mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and be gently courted by a flirtatious bus driver (David Oyelowo). If the film’s revelations aren’t particularly revelatory, “Middle of Nowhere” is nonetheless a model of how well-written roles and close-to-the-bone performances can create a world so vibrant that you realize you’re seeing ordinary lives depicted in exceptional ways.
Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer
Middle of Nowhere, the involving sophomore feature from writer/director Ava DuVernay, is about two kinds of hard time…. In this film, hushed as a whisper, throbbing with longing, and anchored by Corinealdi's stunning performance, Ruby goes from one who waits to one who acts. Gorgeously shot by Bradford Young, who sees amethyst undertones everywhere, the film follows Ruby on her various rounds. She ministers to her patients, to Derek, to her sister and nephew. She's there for everyone but herself. Those closest to Ruby (her bitter mother and bittersweet sister, wonderfully played by Lorraine Toussaint and Edwina Findley) are deeply critical of her unflagging commitment to Derek. This only increases her sense of isolation. Then Brian (David Oyelowo), the bus driver who ferries her every morning after her night shift, gallantly shows his interest. After she pushes him away, Ruby gets to wondering along the lines of whether fidelity to self trumps spousal fidelity. Did I say how moving Corinealdi is? As Ruby, she walks as though heavily armored, but with vulnerable eyes. It's the eyes that draw Brian in. Likewise the audience. In the hands of another filmmaker, this would be a melodrama of a woman who can't be with the one she loves and is tempted by the one she's with. Or the socially engaged story of men in prison and women maintaining the community. But DuVernay, a low-key director sparing in her use of emotion and music, has made an existential drama that is European in its feel. By this I mean it doesn't have an American film's need to neatly resolve the conflicts and uncertainties. Nor does it have a need to indicate whether characters are good and bad. They just are. DuVernay has made an American art film, a journey into the dark night of the soul that ends in an iridescent dawn. By movie's end, Ruby has shed the emotional armor, walks with grace, and is fully present. Like its central character, Middle of Nowhere is a gem.
Sam Adams, AV Club
At the Sundance Film Festival in January, Ava DuVernay’s second feature, Middle Of Nowhere, was almost scandalously overlooked, even though—or more likely, because—it fits the Sundance template to a T. Modest, character-driven dramas were once the festival’s driving force, but they’ve long since been eclipsed by stunt-driven projects like Beasts Of The Southern Wild, especially those with young directors who can easily be marketed as the latest in a long line of Next Big Things. (The climate being what it is, it also unfortunately doesn’t help that the movie’s subjects are middle-class African-Americans, and DuVernay’s name isn’t Tyler Perry.) DuVernay, a longtime publicist who only recently began making her own movies, isn’t a young turk, and Middle Of Nowhere shows little interest in flaunting its writer-director’s command of her craft. But the story of a woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) who drops out of her metropolitan medical school to be closer to the remote prison where her husband (Hardwick) is serving an eight-year term, is an uncommonly thoughtful, accomplished realization of familiar form, and a reminder of why that form—and the festival that once celebrated it—exists in the first place. With unfussy lyricism and a hard-nosed lack of sentiment, DuVernay sets Corinealdi on the fine line between loyalty and self-sacrifice, wondering at what point, if any, her devotion to maintaining her marriage might slide into simple foolishness. When a bus driver (David Oyelowo) begins, subtly but persistently, to explore the limits of her commitment, she rebuffs him, but her curiosity is piqued—less because of loneliness or sexual desire, though those certainly factor in, than because she herself wonders how strong she is, and whether strength consists in shutting out temptation or facing it up close. The power of Middle Of Nowhere is cumulative, conveyed in sustained tone and deepening character rather than bravura sequences or explosive confrontations. But its lack of pyrotechnics doesn’t translate to a paucity of feeling. If anything, it’s more affecting for the leisurely way it rolls out its story, allowing each step to resonate before moving on to the next.
Karina Longworth, Village Voice:
The remarkably self-assured, micro-budget Middle, for which DuVernay won the Best Director prize at Sundance (making her the first African-American woman to do so), languidly follows the unraveling of a pact made in its first scene. Skip ahead four years. We still don't know why Derek is locked up—DuVernay takes her time revealing what he's accused of, letting us wonder, as we take in Ruby's initially staunch support of her man, if he's actually guilty of anything or is merely a casualty of the system—but we know that if he has behaved himself, he'll be out of jail in a few months. Yet, 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 for half a decade. The deterioration of Ruby's marriage coincides with the blossoming of her attraction to Brian, 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. Like Ruby, DuVernay's film resists easy categorization. Formally, there's a powerful tension between aesthetics and content. Although the director demonstrates a gift for sultry, music-motivated montages, the meat of the movie lies in its daringly long dialogue scenes. The filmmaker's stolid, unblinking eye serves as a sharp contrast to Ruby's impatience to claim the life she has been fantasizing about. The film's naturalistic performances and austere, gray-violet palette misdirect from the fact that much of the material is psychological; the "real" is woven through with heightened flourishes to blur the line between actual and imagined truth. 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.
Elias Savada, Film Threat:
Somber and moody, with assured direction by Ava DuVernay overseeing an exceedingly at-ease cast, the mood poem that is “Middle of Nowhere” is one of the best little films of the year. Emayatzy Corinealdi shines as Ruby. The bittersweet story stirs up Ruby’s inner turmoil as she wavers between two men, forcing her into further soul searching that brings on a harsh decision at the film’s end. Whether you think it will be Derek or Brian, DuVernay brings a brutal honesty to the situation. With the support of marvelous hand-held, low-light, slow-moving camerawork by Bradford Young, slow fades by editor Spencer Averick, and an extremely enmeshing score by Kathryn Bostic (as well as the songs snipped throughout the soundtrack courtesy of music supervisor Morgan Rhodes), you’re propelled forward right alongside Ruby, sharing the seat next to her on daily commute. Corinealdi’s absorbing, emotionally-driven performance is just stunning in its simplicity, although all the actors deserve commendation for striking characterizations under DuVernay’s probing, straight-forward direction. There is hope among the broken souls populating the “Middle of Nowhere,” and a heartfelt thank you to Ava DuVernay and her cast and crew for sharing her gem with us. Painful and powerful in its simplicity, it’s a film worth watching more than once for its sheer emotional truths.
Violet Lucca, FilmComment:
With its innocuous title, Middle of Nowhere may seem like yet another passably shot Sundance indie you can skip because you’ve seen the soft beats it hits a thousand times before. Don’t be a jackass—resist such urges. Losing itself inside the labyrinthine emotions of long-distance relationships, relationships between female family members, and the prison industrial complex, Middle of Nowhere displays a rare savvy for such explorations, visually and narratively. Despite putting everyone else in front of her, this is all about Ruby: the brilliant and economical pieces of mind she does give, and the space when things she leaves unsaid. Sumptuously shot, the latter moments are perhaps most powerful, achieving an Apichatpong-like quietude in a story that tackles so many big issues and emotions. Though writer-director Ava DuVernay avoids any and all cliché right up until the closing titles, I have no qualms ending this review with one: I wholeheartedly look forward to her next project
Marshall Fine, Huffington Post:
The big dramatic moments in DuVernay’s film are intentionally small and interior, which is one of the film’s gutsiest moves. The filmmaker isn’t afraid to take her time and to let Ruby spend time with her thoughts and memory. Like Terrence Malick, she understands the power of a wordless interpersonal exchange; unlike Malick, she also knows how to attach it to something of more substance, so that the emotional power accrues over the course of the film. DuVernay also shines a light on Emayatzy Corinealdi, who seemingly is at the center of every scene. She has stillness and strength, with a face across which emotions play, both cautiously and with ferocity. She conveys a lot with a little, fitting perfectly into DuVernay’s scheme of keeping things grounded while maintaining a certain level of ambiguity. That ambiguity –- a sense of things being up in the air, imperfect, with no easy solution in sight –- is anathema to most films. Too many movies are afraid to leave the audience with questions about why a character feels a certain way or what will happen next. They’re also afraid to simply be quiet, to show us characters thinking and feeling without actually talking about either.
David Fear, Time Out:
Those of us who head west to Sundance every year and still cling to old-school notions regarding independent cinema—that it can flourish as a forum for alternative viewpoints, that low production values and high-quality storytelling aren’t mutually exclusive, that independent isn’t just a label but also an ethos—often leave Park City experiencing a crisis of faith. But every so often, the festival midwifes a film that reminds us that a sense of discovery still exists on the margins of American moviemaking. Half Nelson, Compliance and Take Shelter are perfect examples; Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary chronicle of a marriage interrupted is another. There’s every reason to think that DuVernay’s tale of a woman trying desperately to stand by her incarcerated man might fall prey to the cloying earnestness and clunky clichés that infect too many Amerindie dramas. But this character study’s refusal to pander by sensationalizing its central social issue skirts such pitfalls with amazing grace; this is humanistic drama done right.
Brent Simon, ShockYa:
“Middle of Nowhere” may have a nondescript title, but the skill of its staging is anything but pedestrian. An intimate, confidently directed and superbly acted humanistic drama that is utterly at home in the subtle push-and-pull of long-standing family arguments and tensions, the Los Angeles-set film casts a long spell — not unlike the recent “For Ellen” — through its beguiling maintainence of melancholic mood. DuVernay picked up Best Director honors at the Sundance Film Festival for the movie, and it’s easy to see why. Much of the film, DuVernay’s second, is naturalistic in its own way, but cinematographer Bradford Young shoots in a muted fashion that underscores the film’s melancholic, deeply interior vibe while not calling attention to itself. Likewise, the production design is spare. The result is a movie that is earnest without being cornpone, slight without being simple, and beautiful without being overly adorned. Corinealdi’s performance, an utter revelation, has a lot to do with this connection. She headlines a cast who captures, in smart, affecting and concise strokes, the inner restlessness and not easily articulated regret of characters fumbling toward an emotional equilibrium. “Middle of Nowhere” is an honest and moving account of some of the tough decisions that face those left on the outside when a loved one goes to prison — and when the not-yet-extinguished dreams of a life they wanted are commingled with a sense of shame over what their life actually is.
Kirk HoneyCutt, Honeycutt's Hollywood:
Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” is a rather unusual prison movie. Because it doesn’t spend one moment behind bars. Rather the focus is on the wife of an inmate. She too dwells in a prison, only one without actual bars…. In recent years, American films about people of color or ethnic minorities have come of age. No longer must their stories turn on race, anger, protests or issues of assimilation.“Middle of Nowhere” not only typifies this welcome trend, it’s a model for a thoughtful, well told drama that enters the lives of its characters with subtle grace. This among other reasons is no doubt why the film’s writer-director, Ava DuVernay, won the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival…. The movie contains no melodrama. Rather it measures the lives of its African-American characters in scenes where everyone tries to suppress emotional intensity. Yet these emotions bubble to the surface in ways that don’t seem acted, in scenes that don’t seem scripted. Again shunning melodrama, the film lacks bad guys. Rather the movie gives a glimpses into these private lives, never pushing for histrionics…. The direction is meticulous and well calibrated. Yes, “Middle of Nowhere” most definitely did earn its Sundance honors.
Tom Long, Detroit News:
Writer-director Ava Duvernay does an extraordinary job of taking a very specific and too-common situation — a woman waiting on her husband to get out of prison — and opening it up, dealing with failed expectations, sad familial patterns, haunted hopes and the very idea of being lost in the midst of life. The film stars a steely but tender Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby, whose husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) is in a California prison for at least five years, assuming he can get out on good behavior. Derek's crime is fittingly unknown for most of the film — he's just another young black man in the prison system. This is just another family dealing with consequences. As Derek's time begins, Ruby, a registered nurse, has to pass up medical school so she can pay off his legal bills. We learn Ruby has a straight-laced, disapproving mother, Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint), with no father in sight; and a sister, Rosie (Edwina Findley), who's a single mother. Derek also has a child by a previous relationship, and Ruby has to come up with money for that child. For much of the film Ruby perseveres, visiting Derek, working double shifts to make more money, clinging to the hope that her husband will earn early release. Even when a kind bus driver named Brian (David Oyelowo) asks her out, she stays faithful. But then after four years, her faith is broken, and she seeks out Brian. At first, she avoids telling him about her situation; she's simply been separated from her husband for a long time. And she's thrilled to have a man on the outside in her life. But sooner or later Ruby's going to have to face reality. Duvernay approaches her story — what there is of it — with a warm but tough realism. The camera cares for Ruby even as it reveals how much is wrong in her life — her broken relationship with her mother, the way she's clinging to what could have been, her fear of the future. Throughout the film, Ruby is a decent, hard-working woman, yet she's also plagued by the way she turned a blind eye to Derek's criminal activities. If she hadn't, maybe he would have stopped. And maybe he wouldn't be in prison. This cycle of guilt has nowhere good to go. And it's a cycle that plays through every family that's experienced failure of some sort. In other words, every family. Still, Duvernay leaves the film on something of a hopeful note. In the end, Ruby has lost the bad along with the good. She is ready to begin. "Middle of Nowhere" is not a slam-bang Hollywood film — it's controlled and complex and slow and real in a way that's rarely seen. Duvernay, who first made her name as a publicist and marketing wiz in Hollywood, has an uncommon eye and feel for life and the shadows behind the obvious. This film is about a particular African-American experience, true, but it's also about the human experience. It will haunt you. It should.