Is it trite to start a film review with a Langston Hughes quote? Near the end of Middle of Nowhere, after Rosie (Lorraine Toussaint) yelled out "Every year is next year for you!" I kept thinking of the Hughes poem Harlem: “What happens to a dream deferred?” Hughes offered several possibilities, but his final warning rings truest for the characters in Middle of Nowhere:
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Ava DuVernay’s second feature casts an empathetic eye on how the day-to-day particulars of supporting a spouse in prison - the hours of travel, legal battles, fees, bus rides and delayed desires - slowly, inexorably wear down even the most hopeful people. So what does happen for those deferred dream people who wait for next year?
Unlike I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere is not based on personal experience. Regardless, the film feels intensely personal. It’s told from the point of view of Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi, in what would be a star-turn if there was any justice in the world). Ruby drops out of medical school and becomes as a night nurse to support her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick, sullen in a prison jumpsuit or smiling in Ruby’s memories). He is serving an 8 year prison sentence for an initially unvoiced crime. Though Ruby supports Derek financially, legally, and emotionally, her own support system is thin - a doting but directionless sister (Edwina Findley), a mother (Lorraine Toussaint) whose good advice is undermined by poor delivery, and an amorous bus driver (David Oyelowo). The cast is extraordinary, and the film is shot by TFE favorite Bradford Young, but what DuVernay does with her raw materials turns the film from simple melodrama to subtle character study.