I have literally seen Anton Yelchin grow up on screen. In truth, he was never my favorite child star and I'm not sure I thought he'd transition effectively from misunderstood youth to leading man material. But taking a page out of the Joseph Gordon-Levitt handbook, Yelchin seems to be doing just fine by picking indie roles that interest him and growing as an actor. His quirky energy and distinctive presence distinguish him from much of young Hollywood, and his ability to have quietly built an impressive resume has been nothing short of amazing. I don't mean to derail my talk about "Middle of Nowhere" to discuss Yelchin, but he ends up being the film's most compelling performance. A solid and appealing sleeper by John Stockwell, "Middle of Nowhere" is one of those quiet little films likely to be discovered and appreciated through the years. It may not be groundbreaking by plotting standards, but it has an overall sincerity that works better than you have any right to expect!
"Middle of Nowhere" tells the story of Grace (Eva Amurri), a bright girl from a troubled family. With big plans to escape from a small town existence, Grace gets little support from her flighty mother (Susan Sarandon). Sarandon focuses all her energy on her younger daughter who she is convinced is "model material." But underlying the difficult family dynamic is the fact that Grace's father committed suicide years ago, and the family has never really dealt with the truths behind the act. New to town is Dorian (Yelchin), an exiled troublemaker spending a back-to-the-basics summer with his uncle. The two form a tentative friendship at the water park where they both work. Grace, desperate for college money, soon gets ensnared in Dorian's extracurricular activities. He is a successful pot dealer, and not without some family demons of his own!
But "Middle of Nowhere" is not just a silly teen caper--it treats its subject matter in a suitably believable way. Quirky and amusing, at first, the film focuses on real life pain and difficult circumstances to fully reveal its three dimensional characters. That's the strength in "Middle of Nowhere"--you'll care about what happens to these kids! Surprisingly free of expected cliche (although Amurri's romance with a privileged boy plays out by the numbers), the relationships established in the film are well conceived. Amurri is steadfast and calm, but it's Yelchin who (once again) steals every scene he's in. A suitably ambiguous ending plays true to his character, and I appreciated the choice that Stockwell made in not wrapping things up with a convenient bow. Warm and sweet, and at times quite funny, "Middle of Nowhere" is a solid sleeper! KGHarris, 1/11.