I’m excited to begin Cinemacy’s inaugural coverage of the Newport Beach Film Festival, and our first film indicates we’re off to a great start! Somewhere in the Middle comes from a team of Brooklyn filmmakers led by Lanre Olabisi (whose last film August the First is streamable on Netflix) that successfully raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter in order to produce this film, a rare feat. Taking influence from the styles of Mike Leigh and other dialogue-driven directors, Olabisi manages to craft something that feels fresh and unique and plays with our understanding of cinema in how we view individual scenes compared to how we view a complete movie.
For the first half of the film, we are introduced to four protagonists in an unconventional manner, each of whom are intertwined with the others. First we meet Sophia (Marisol Miranda) in her therapist’s waiting room where she meets Kofi (Charles Miller) and immediately develops a liking to him. After seeing her side of the story and how she views this meeting, we then see Kofi’s perspective and gain a better understanding of why he behaved the way he did. Anyone who has tried dating someone and felt like they didn’t understand their behavior can relate to this scene. Rather than taking an omnipresent perspective, we view each vignette from a distinct point of view, then return to it from another perspective and have a completely different understanding of what happened. The result is an electrifying journey of love, deceit, and evocative sexual tension. In a conventional film, it is a given that the scenes play out in chronological order with nothing important in between, but in Somewhere in the Middle, information is often deliberately withheld until much later, resulting in a much more engaging and authentic experience. The closest structural companion that comes to my mind is Iñárritu’s 21 Grams, which similarly is successful in telling a gripping non-linear story.
Structurally, the centerpieces are the intense dialogue sequences most often between two of the given protagonists.
As I began to realize that the film took on the concept of ‘everything is connected’ I was apprehensive it would lead to a neatly wrapped coincidence-heavy conclusion, because at first it seems unlikely that the characters have any natural connection. However, as more information is revealed, it becomes clear that these characters have defined connections that aren’t made clear until later in the runtime. You’re never quite sure how it’s all going to pan out.
Structurally, the centerpieces are the intense dialogue sequences most often between two of the given protagonists. In the beginning, the film diffuses some of the momentum by showing a large number of transition shots of characters going between places. However, once the story actually gets going, these transitions become fewer, and the character interactions start to define the film as a whole. Olabisi worked closely with all the actors to construct improvised pieces that feel authentic and motivate the story. The most dynamic character created is Billie (Inside Man’s Cassandra Freeman), a powerhouse boss whose untamed love life causes most of the turbulence in the story. It is a rare treat to see a character with so much dimension who can be flawed without being unsympathetic. Billie is far from perfect yet her motivations are familiar to all. This is the type of character we love to follow, and the fact that she is a woman of color and has this much depth is unfortunately very rare in mainstream cinema, but as such, she is that much more exciting to watch.
You’ll notice I have avoided speaking too directly about the specific events that happen in this film. Because of the twisting nature of the storylines, knowing less up front will produce a far richer movie-going experience. I congratulate the cast and crew for putting together such a vibrant drama, especially within the constraints of such a low budget. Somewhere in the Middle debuted at the Newport Beach Film Festival today at 5:15 pm. It will screen again Thursday April 30 at 7:30 pm. I strongly recommend you catch this film then! It is exactly the type of independent film that makes smaller film festivals so exciting to attend, and hopefully will find its way to larger release later on.
For tickets to Thursday’s screening of Somewhere in the Middle, click here.