A neatly constructed, though somewhat ineffectual, drama of conflicting love lives, Somewhere in the Middle (2015) marks the second outing of filmmaker and screenwriter Lanre Olabisi. Purely a product of New York filmmaking, Olabisi’s effort feels like a contentious New York minute stretched out and emotionally dissected systematically over its 90-minute running time.
Somewhere in the Middle is a romantic narrative told in ellipses. One storyline circles over another and is played back again to reveal how each character’s story is intertwined with another’s.
Our first introduction is to Sofia, who has a session with a therapist she’s seeing for the first time. In the doctor’s home office, she meets Kofi (who, it so happens, is the brother of Sofia’s therapist). Sofia takes a liking to Kofi and when she meets him again a few days later, she gives him her number.
Meanwhile, Kofi’s wife, Billie, is an overworked manager at a marketing firm who’s underwhelmed by her (as she sees it) meandering husband. Kofi, who works in a legal office, only wants to spend time with his wife, but she brushes him off every chance she gets for the sake of her work engagements.
To complicate matters, Billie is beginning to take a liking to her co-worker Alex, a young, resilient British woman who invites Billie to stay at her apartment when Billie walks out on Kofi. Alex, who playfully indulges in Billie’s flirtations with her, rather fancies her co-worker Elliott, which quietly earns the ire of Billie. Throughout all this, Sofia continues to chase after Kofi, much to the detriment of her psychological well-being.
Olabisi’s script is well-mapped out; the storylines of each character is thoroughly engaging and cleverly intersect with a precision that’s clean and elegant. His skill comes down to taking a very simple narrative and transforming it into an intricate sequence of events with textured complexity. Despite the fact that there are four different stories going on at once, Olabisi commands a sobering clarity that prevents the narrative from becoming hopelessly muddled and overtaxed.
The glaring issues are the characters themselves: they are spoiled, selfish, indulgent brats. There’s not a likable character in the bunch here. It’s rather a shame that, while the narrative hooks you right in, you must endure 90-minutes with the kinds of people you take special care to avoid in your workplace, your neighbourhood, or just about anywhere in your everyday life. To be sure, Olabisi’s film is about the fatal flaws which destroy human relationships, be they jealousy, infidelity or deep-seated obsessions. But we are being delivered the reprehensible tangles of four self-entitled man-children (the sorts often slagged off as “millennial trash”) with the inferred objective that any of these people deserve our sympathies. And rather than being able to just admire Olabisi’s nimble narrative thread weaving, the childish exploits overwhelm the structural design.
It’s a good thing Olabisi has a set of skilled actors (some of them relatively new) on hand; each of them provides the right amount of vulnerability and apoplexy, delivered in measured turns. Cassandra Freeman, in particular, is exceptional; she renders her Billie with a creepy, almost Machiavellian, design of sociopathy, masking the deeper insecurities lying far beneath.
Film Movement gives Somewhere in the Middle a handsome transfer, with sharp images, evenly-toned colours and clear sound. The film was shot on digital video, so it suffers from that definitively flat-world scope that seems to be synonymous with DV, but there’s a certain moodiness to the shots that reflect New York City in its most refined, urbane moments. There are no extras available on the disc.