Every now and again, a film draws you into its world in a way that makes you forget any and everything going on in your life. For a couple of hours, you’re able to set aside the frustrations of your personal life and your work life to indulge in the fictional representation of people with whom you may or may not share a personal connection. This was definitely my experience upon having the pleasure of viewing writer/director Lanre Olabisi’s sophomore feature, “Somewhere in the Middle” (2015) at the 2015 Urbanworld Film Festival.
“Somewhere in the Middle” starts by introducing us to its main characters. First, we have Sofia (Marisol Miranda of “Happy Baby”), who is waiting on an appointment with her therapist. She meets the charming Kofi (Charles Miller of “Double Negative”) who, unbeknownst to her, is her therapist’s brother. There is obvious chemistry between the two (at least from Sofia’s perspective), and they share a few nice moments before her appointment. We realize later that Kofi is involved in a tumultuous marriage with the strong and successful Billie (Cassandra Freeman of “Inside Man”). What follows the character introductions is an intricate interweaving of stories told from the three characters’ perspectives in a raw and honest manner.
The film’s cast is superb, to say the least. Everyone, from the main characters to the supporting cast, has an important part to play. Dennis Rubin Green (“August the First”) plays Kofi’s older brother and Sofia’s therapist. He attempts to be a voice of reason for his brother. He is the perfect mix of gentleness and firmness while trying to encourage his brother to grow up a little. Louisa Ward (“Halo: Helljumper”) plays Alex, a coworker of Billie’s who is straight-talking and unapologetic in her actions. She serves as comic relief, but has her moments of vulnerability and a few subtle self-confidence issues that Ward brings to life brilliantly. The magical thing about the ensemble is that they all shine in extremely different ways.
Billie’s power and self-assured demeanor is definitely one that is completely ingrained in one’s memory. She’s a powerhouse performer and delivered a character that is not only full of strength, but showed moments of vulnerability – even when Billie tries so hard not to. Her performance (and excellent writing from Olabisi), kept her far away from the stereotypical traps many African-American fictional film characters (especially females) fall into. Anyone could watch her performance and relate to her in some way.
Charles Miller’s Kofi presents an additional angle to someone going through a separation. Where Billie dealt with her issues utilizing distractions like work and dinner parties, Kofi’s struggle was a little different. Though intent on reclaiming his marriage, a part of him still wondered, “what if I just quit and moved on?” This creates an interesting dynamic with him and Sofia. He blows hot and he blows cold, but it doesn’t annoy or disappoint because you understand the struggles of his heart. Even viewers who perceive Kofi’s actions as wrong will feel a pang of sorrow for Kofi’s heartache. Is he going about things the right way? I don’t think that matters. Miller’s performance is a beautiful observation into the minds of humans when it comes to matters of the heart.
Sofia is a force to be reckoned with, but not for the reasons you think. She is not loud, nor is she written as completely insane. She seems to have the short end of the stick when it comes to men. Though she’s a little obsessive over Kofi (admit it, you were smitten with the charming Miller, too), it doesn’t seem to be because she’s crazy and obsessive. It’s seems to be to prove to herself and others that she doesn’t go out with the same guys or will be the one dealing with heartbreak at the end. Miranda’s portrayal brings a quiet contemplation to everything she does. She has a lot of silent moments, but her performance is always heard. Sometimes, great performances can be delivered with few words, and her character is proof of that.
It is difficult to execute a well-balanced ensemble piece, but Olabisi and company definitely jumped that hurdle without pause. The individual stories connect in a way free of letdowns or clichés and will actually have you scooting a little closer to the edge of your seat as you wonder how everything will resolve. Each character serves as a protagonist and antagonist of sorts, which brings a stark reality to the table in that, as humans, none of us are perfect and there is often multiple sides to a story. The clear direction is enhanced even more by beautiful cinematography (Piero Basso) and editing (Alex Kopit). Visually, we’re presented with an atmosphere of quiet turmoil, unblemished by the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. This talented team gave the characters an open canvas to present their fictional trials and tribulations to viewers in the kind of “in-your-face” and “down-to-earth” manner that only independent film can provide.
“Somewhere in the Middle” is a beautifully crafted view into human behavior. It could have easily been cliché-ridden romantic drama that trudged along with melodramatic dialogue and no real direction. Writer/director Lanre Olabisi and his extremely talented team kept the film grounded and relatable. Viewers feel more like flies on the wall taking an intimate peek into the lives of three completely different individuals. This is a rare film that isn’t necessarily tied up neatly with a pretty bow because, let’s face it, life doesn’t work that way. If you ever have a chance to catch it, you definitely won’t regret it.
Brooklyn Movie Examiner’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
MPAA rating: Not rated
Minimum Age Group: 17+
Sexuality: Sexual situations, brief nudity
Drugs/Alcohol: Casual drinking
Themes/Issues: Divorce, sexuality