Image Entertainment // 2008 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 13th, 2010
Life without a road map.
"Do you have any drugs on you right now?"
Grace (Eva Amurri, Californication) has just graduated from high school and wants desperately to go to college. Unfortunately, she's unable to qualify for a loan as her mother (Susan Sarandon, The Lovely Bones) opened up a credit card in Grace's name and never bothered to pay it off. The loan application officer is kind, but firm: "You're a very nice young girl with a terrible credit history." Grace informs her mother of her woes, but mom doesn't seem to care. Alas, it seems as if her dream of becoming a physician is quickly fading away.
It's at about this point that Grace meets Dorian (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek (2009)), an enterprising young man who offers Grace an opportunity to get involved in the drug-dealing business. Dorian isn't the sort of shady character you'd expect to be in such a profession; he's chipper, warm, and clear-eyed. His charms help offset Grace's concerns about involving herself in illegal activities. Besides, she needs the money and she needs a good friend, too. So begins the adventure that two teenagers shared over the course of one summer.
Huh. Just a couple of days before writing this review, I reviewed a film called Pretty Bird. It was a 2008 release that never really made it to theaters and was dumped onto DVD despite having some notable names in the cast. Now I'm reviewing Middle of Nowhere, another 2008 release that never really made it to theaters and is being dumped onto DVD despite having some notable names in the cast. In the case of the former film, I suspect its tone was too oddball for many. In the case of this film, I suspect that the whole affair was just too forgettable. It's the sort of film that doesn't really have many problems but doesn't really have many significant attributes, either. It just sort of sits there, quietly shuffling its way towards the end credits without drawing too much attention to itself.
The film has an autobiographical feel, though I can only speculate on just whose autobiography it might be. Perhaps it's writer Michelle Morgan, taking a break from acting and turning in her first screenplay. Maybe it's director John Stockwell, whose films are generally less personal fare (Turistas, Blue Crush). Sometimes semi-autobiographical films resonate in a particularly strong way because the person creating them has actually lived through the experience and knows how to recreate that experience successfully (see Almost Famous). However, much of the time such films feel bland, as the creators are unable to find a way to translate for the audience the strong emotions that are tied to these memories.
So, with Middle of Nowhere we essentially have a film that feels like reading the summer diary of a typical teenager; though we see the more emotionally explicit moments, we don't really feel them. The only way the meandering Middle of Nowhere could have managed to truly succeed would be if it had found a way to grip us emotionally. That effort fails, so the film does as well. It kind of pains me to say that, as it's clear the movie has been crafted with love. Still, many unsuccessful films have been crafted with love.
As the plot never really managed to engage me, I found myself drawn to examining the characters as the film went along. They're mostly simple, likable people without much complexity. I suppose the most intriguing character is the mother played by Susan Sarandon, who is a bad parent but not a terrible one. This is an interesting move, as we've seen lots of parental monsters but not many who are just generally misguided people. When Grace pleads with her mother about the need for education, Sarandon replies, "Abraham Lincoln didn't go to college." Even so, behind that flinty, chain-smoking exterior lies a woman living with deep regret.
Most viewers are probably familiar with Anton Yelchin due to his roles in big-budget blockbusters like Star Trek (2009) and Terminator Salvation, but in truth Middle of Nowhere is very familiar territory for him. After appearing in Hearts in Atlantis, Fierce People, Alpha Dog, and Charlie Bartlett, Yelchin is no stranger to middling, character-driven dramas. He does solid work in a role that feels like a composite of previous parts. Amurri is also solid, but almost overshadowed at times by the performance of Willa Holland (Legion) as Grace's sister.
The hi-def transfer is fine if unremarkable. This is a small movie without much attention to visual detail, but the image is well-captured and clean. There's a mild level of grain present throughout, but nothing too bothersome. Brighter scenes tend to fare best, with colors that pop off the screen at times (just look at the water park scenes). Facial detail and background detail is stellar. The audio is similarly solid, focusing on dialogue and offering rather minimal sound design. The music comes through with strength and clarity on occasion, but for the most part this is a chat-heavy track. Supplements include a 25-minute "Making-Of Featurette," some deleted scenes and 11 minutes of extended interviews pulled from the featurette.
Impossible to hate but equally difficult to praise, Middle of Nowhere is likely doomed to being a forgotten entry on the resumes of all involved.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes