17 July 2010 | gradyharp
Learning Love Without Parental Model
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is one of those surprise films that appear to have gone direct to DVD - not because they are unworthy of theater showing but because they are thinking films rather than explosively entertaining/CGI/3D extravaganzas. The script (Michelle Morgan) is smart, the concepts are viable and refreshingly not overdone, the direction (John Stockwell) shows great respect for the talents of the actors, and the cast is as solid as could be assembled for a film about touchy subjects. The theme that is born at the beginning of this film and grows in importance right to the end is the parent/child conundrum: when is parenting adequate and what are the drivers for dysfunctional family units.
Grace Berry (Eva Amurri, in a very natural and focused tough role) explains to a college scholarship counselor (Sharon London) that she needs financial aid to begin her higher education to become a doctor, but though she is a brilliant student, the counselor refuses to award a scholarship because of Grace's exceptionally bad credit rating. Distraught, Grace challenges her mother Rhonda (Susan Sarandon) when she discovers Rhonda has used Grace's name to open credit cards and has spent them to the limit. Grace needs big money to attend college and her summer job at the water park in town is minimum wage only. Also working at the water park is the happy-go-lucky Dorian (Anton Yelchin) who flirts with disaster, having found an 'extra job' selling weed to the rich folks of the city. After a lot of patter Dorian gently coerces Grace into being his driver (Dorian has no car, having been grounded for misbehavior by his grumpy uncle who is serving as relief for Dorian's adoptive parents), and the two begin a quality friendship that fills emotional and financial gaps in each of their lives.
But the truth about Grace and Dorian's parents surfaces: Dorian was given up by his 15-year- old mother for religious reasons and has been placed with quasi-appropriate wealthy parents; Grace lives with the knowledge that her father committed suicide only to come to discover that the suicide was the result of discovering that Rhonda was (and still is) having an affair with his brother Bob (William Haze). Grace's discovery comes through a conversation with her Aunt Polly (Karen Bramen, in an excellent role for this new actress) and Grace's mother-favored younger sister Taylor (Willa Holland), and the revelation sets off a series of events that propels the story to an end. Yes, there are sidebars expected in stories of teenagers: Grace falls in lust with rich kid Ben (Justin Chatwin); Taylor rebels against her mother by cutting her hair thus ending her mother's obsession with Taylor's becoming a model and Taylor seduces Dorian; Dorian confronts his birth mother; there are fights where Dorian is injured and finds himself alone without family support. But without a sugarcoated finale, the film ends quietly, affirming the importance of friends - a kind of love than can replace gaping holes in family relationships.
The movie truly belongs to Eva Amurri who proves she is becoming as fine an actress as her mother, Susan Sarandon. The film also allows Anton Yelchin to demonstrate a much broader range to his acting than he has been given before. The entire cast is excellent. This is a coming of age story - with far more attention being paid to the adult end of the developmental spectrum.