At the start of Middle of Nowhere, a man (Omari Hardwick) sentenced to eight years in an L.A. prison on unstated charges begins serving his time, and his wife rearranges her life to wait for him, putting her medical-school studies on hold. Nothing all that dramatic happens to Ruby (a career-making role for Emayatzy Corinealdi) on the outside during those long years. And yet, in the course of this attentive, clear-eyed drama, writer-director Ava DuVernay conveys the rhythms of a woman undergoing a shift of self. It's that middle-of-emotional-nowhere that interests DuVernay so intently, and into which the filmmaker (who in 2012 became the first African-American woman to win the directing prize at Sundance) puts so much passionate care and attention to narrative detail.
As a result, what could suds into soapy melodrama stays for the most part impressively real, as Ruby observes her life alongside those of other distinctively drawn characters. They include the bus driver who's sweet on her (David Oyelowo), and her own unhappy mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and single-mom sister (Edwina Findley). This is a tough-minded story of change that happens in almost imperceptibly tiny increments as true growth so often does in reality. B+