A pleasant enough dramedy about shaking free of teenage obligations and working to secure one’s own future, or at least a better sense of that path, director John Stockwell’s Middle of Nowhere is the filmic equivalent of a solid mid-tempo rock track — free of many of the preordained grooves of more discretely defined comedic or dramatic young adult genre pieces, and yet destined, for all its buoyant low-grade, character-fed quirkiness, to never really land a lasting emotional blow.
The story centers on a rebellious, 17-year-old screw-up from a wealthy family, Dorian Spitz (Anton Yelchin), who finally exhausts the patience of his adoptive parents. They ship him off for the summer break to live with his strict, disciplinarian uncle, who promptly bans Dorian from driving, advising that “walking builds blisters, and blisters build character.” Henceforth, Dorian lands a job at a local water park and, ever in need of transportation, strikes up a
friendship with the slightly older Grace (Eva Amurri), who’s spent the last half dozen years looking after her
younger sister Taylor (Willa Holland) following their father’s suicide. Grace’s mother Rhonda (Amurri’s real-life mom, Susan Sarandon) is a self-centered force of nature who sees
herself as a martyr for the sacrifices she’s made to keep her family
In reality, though, she’s a steady stream of roadblocks for Grace, too busy trying to impress her dreams of a modeling career on Taylor to tend to Grace’s educational future. In fact, by taking out credit cards in her daughter’s name and neglecting to make payments, Rhonda has seemingly doomed Grace’s chances of going to college, unless the latter
raises a cool $12,000 in three months to cover tuition. Enter Dorian, ever the schemer. Hatching a plot to sell pot, he strikes a business deal with the practical-minded Grace, who sets aside her objections but soon finds her arrangement with Dorian complicated by burgeoning feelings for rich boy Ben (Justin Chatwin).
At its core, Middle of Nowhere is about realizing that familial bonds don’t always translate smoothly into functional relationships, adult or otherwise, and finding a way to manage those relationships while also surrounding oneself with (nominally) more positive influences who support your goals. The problem is that while it’s anchored by likable young performers, there’s not quite enough of a dark streak here to give the material some weight, and a honest sense of lurking disaster. While it’s understandable that she would want to escape the destructive clutches and impulses of her mother, Grace’s ambition are fairly lightly sketched, and Amurri consistently plays to the sunnier instincts of her character, even in emotional moments.
Michelle Morgan’s script deserves points for realistically showcasing how quickly the swirl of teenage feeling can inform decision-making (and allowing Stockwell to further indulge his under-recognized appreciation of the female backside), but, without getting too far into the specifics, the movie’s ending fundamentally ignores the most basic libidinal impulses of adolescence, and how male judgment and kindness come online, as it were, typically much later than their female counterparts.
Middle of Nowhere comes to Blu-ray presented in 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p high-definition, with a DTS-HD master audio 5.1 sound mix, and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. In the bonus material, Stockwell (Blue Crush, Into the Blue) jokes about being unable to escape from water, as location scouting turned up a water park on the edge of Baton Rouge that ended up being a much more visually engaging place of employment for Grace and Dorian than what was originally written, a grocery store. The cast and crew interviews, including with producer David Lancaster, are engaging, but there’s unfortunately an awful lot of yawning plot recap in the 25-minute making-of featurette that accompanies the disc. Six minutes of deleted scenes find Dorian sketching out some of his uncle’s spartan rules in conversation with Grace, and also extend laundry room dance sequence in which Dorian impulsively plants a kiss on Grace. The film’s trailer rounds out materials. To purchase the Blu-ray via Amazon, click here; to purchase the regular DVD, meanwhile, click here. B- (Movie) B- (Disc)