As “Middle of Nowhere” is released on DVD this week, the film she made before that, “I Will Follow,” is now streaming on Netflix. So a double punch of Ava DuVernay, coming to you in the same week. Although we could make that a triple, since her latest, “Selma,” is now in wide theatrical release.
All major platforms covered: a new film in theaters; the film she made before that one, new on DVD and digital download (to buy or rent); and the film she made before that one, available to stream, via Netflix.
But regarding “I Will Follow,” as I said in my review of it 4 years ago, it’s an ambitious little film, given its really thin budget (much less than the $200,000 “Middle of Nowhere is said to have cost; and even much less than “Selma’s” $20 million budget). And while not flawless, I thought it to be a smart, sincere effort, and an auspicious start from Ms DuVernay.
“I Will Follow” takes place roughly in a single 24-hour period, entirely in one location, with a smattering of characters. In short, it chronicles a day in the life of a grieving woman, and the visitors who help her move forward.
It’s what I’d call a meat and potatoes kind of effort. No gimmicks, no pretentiousness – except for the occasional flashback sequence, shot in what looked like a color-saturated glow, delineating the subtle differences between the present and the past, positively affecting the film’s progression, and, given the content of those sequences, provided just enough well-timed humor throughout the mostly dramatic film.
A film of this nature lives and dies on the strength of its performances. And its cast, comprised of seasoned actors (Beverly Todd), and rising stars (Dijon Talton notably), delivers. Michole White’s turn as, for all intents and purposes, our resident “baddie” is rich with complexities that make sure she’s not one-dimensional.
It’s a film that takes its time moving along, so if you have the attention span of a gnat, it may not be a film for you.
It’s an adult movie for adults, and even more explicitly, for women – a rarity in an era dominated by material made specifically for 18 to 30 year old males. Not that the work can’t be universally appreciated. There’s a familiar story in there, with themes and issues of cosmopolitan import, carried throughout the entire film.
But the director believes in the maturity and intelligence of her audience, refraining from spoon-feeding, and the kind of didactic speechifying and mawkishness that sometimes plagues films of its ilk. You’re essentially dropped in the middle of the aftermath, with little more than hints of what once was, in a rather claustrophobic ride with Salli Richardson-Whitfield in the driver’s seat – the vacating home, a revolving door of faces from her past, present, and maybe even future, each providing us with clues as to who this woman really is.
So if you haven’t seen it, and you have a Netflix streaming account, check out what’s not quite the film that started it all (Ava was a documentary filmmaker before “I Will Follow”), but the film that came before the film that seemed to push her to the fore in “Middle of Nowhere,” which earned her the Best Director award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, a history-making event, as she became the first black woman to win the award.
Omari Hardwick, Tracie Thoms and Blair Underwood also feature in “I Will Follow.”