Winner of the Best Director award at this year's Sundance Film Festival and the recent recipient of a glowing recommendation from Oprah Winfrey via Twitter, Middle of Nowhere is a completely character-driven drama that asks a question found far more frequently in life than in the movies: What do you do when your spouse unexpectedly goes to prison? That question arrives disproportionately at the door of African-Americans in this country, a fact not lost on filmmaker Ava DuVernay (the first African-American woman to win the Sundance director award). Against the odds, DuVernay chooses to soft peddle her story's sociopolitical underpinnings, instead focusing on small moments of genuine emotion easily recognized from real life.
Middle of Nowhere's deliberate pacing will put off many viewers, and others will barely sample the film's decidedly female perspective before crying "Chick flick!" But in its finest moments, the movie captures something of the way in which real people gradually move toward meaningful change. It tells its tale through everyday characters seldom found on the big screen — even in low-budget independent movies like this. Sometimes modesty really does seem a virtue. — KEN KORMAN