Sunday, October 14, 2012

...Years, With Good Behavior

#MovieReview: #MiddleOfNowhere

This year, Ava DuVernay became the first African-American woman to win a Sundance award for directing.  The award was for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere which opened in theaters this past weekend through Ms. DuVernay's distribution organization AFFRMMiddle of Nowhere is about Ruby, a woman who is at a crossroads in her life because her husband, Derrick, is in prison.  Ruby has a plan that Derrick, who is serving an eight-year sentence, can be out in four to five years if he keeps his head down and earns an early release for good behavior.  She loves him.  And so she puts aside an opportunity to go to medical school, working nights as a registered nurse so she can pay his attorney's fees and maintain a stable home that will look good to a parole board.  She boards a bus full of other wives and girlfriends, traveling two hours each way just to see Derrick under the scrupulous eyes of prison guards who don't allow touching or any displays of affection.  Four years have passed and it becomes increasingly obvious that the Ruby is the only one on task and that Derrick probably was never the man she thought him to be even before he went to prison. Ruby has to decide whether she'll move forward with her life or let her life remain in limbo in the middle of nowhere.

I won't lie, throughout the movie I was mad at Ruby.  How does a smart woman get sidetracked for years by a man in prison?  In the film, Derrick explains his transgressions by saying he got "caught up," but it is really Ruby who is caught up.  We only get glimpses of their past life together before prison and hints that Derrick may have been dishonest about himself from the beginning.  But there are plenty of people in her life, namely her mother and sister, who urge Ruby to take a look at herself and the shortsightedness of her situation.  But, single mothers themselves, there seems to be no woman around her who is happy and has a man in the picture. As I sat in the theater with two friends I knew and with numerous other women who were strangers, but sisters nonetheless, we all clicked our tongues and tut-tutted the roller coaster that was Ruby's emotional journey.  And, although I was frustrated with Ruby as though she was a friend of mine who had gone astray, I was glad to experience a sincere film featuring characters who look like me dealing with universal problems of love and loss.  This is what great indie film-making looks like. Bravo, Ms. DuVernay.

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