In a world where superheroes and summer blockbusters dominate the movie world, it’s refreshing to see there’s still a place for quiet, thoughtful films. Directed by Jeff Nichols, Loving is an evocative counterpoint to the CGI spectacles that usually lack emotional punch. Nichols showed remarkable restraint, as did his cast. This film addresses a topic ripe for over-dramatization, but Nichols shows remarkable restraint. The result is a film that is beautiful and poignant. I love comic-book movies, but exploring life in a deeper way offers a very different sort of satisfaction.
Loving tells the story of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), an interracial couple whose marriage was a crime in their home state of Virginia. Arrested and faced with choosing between a year in jail or leaving the state, the couple moved to Washington, D.C. Their case was eventually heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Covering a period from 1958 to 1966, Loving is set during the Civil Rights Movement, but focuses on how the ugly legacy of race in America affected two people whose only crime was loving each other. Nichols sets just enough of the broader societal context to give weight to his characters’ experience, deftly avoiding ground that has been well covered already in film.
Buoyed by strong performances from Edgerton (Richard) and Negga (Mildred), Loving exhibits a sweetness that lives up to its name. Both actors showed impressive discipline while expressing a complicated range of emotions. The couple’s endearing nature stands in stark contrast to the cruelty with which they’re treated. This juxtaposition serves the dual purpose of heightening drama while feeling true to life. This is the kind of film I could easily see getting Oscar attention, if for no other reason than the performances by Edgerton and Negga.
This film was beautifully shot and convincingly portrayed 1950s and 1960s America. Idyllic shots of rural Virginia contrast against the chaos of urban Washington. The sense of longing, of pining for home is heartbreakingly vivid. As absurd as it feels to write about costume design in a film about fundamental human rights, the visuals in this Loving look authentic, thereby lending authenticity to the characters’ experience. I almost always find some anachronism takes me out of period movies. Usually it’s a haircut or an article of clothing, but what do I know? I wasn’t even alive back then.
Notably absent, to my surprise, were courtroom scenes heightening the drama. Nichols could have focused on the legal proceedings, but Loving would have been a very different story. This film presents a story chiefly about two people and their family. Resisting the temptation to broaden the focus to the larger issues and legal case preserves a sense of intimacy. Nichols deserves a lot of credit here. Eschewing courtroom scenes produced a movie that didn’t rehash lazy and tired movie tropes. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some amazing movie moments set in courtrooms, but courtroom drama can turn into courtroom cliché in a hurry.
This film is a bitter reminder that real progress often requires real sacrifice. The Lovings suffered years of exile before the Supreme Court heard their case. During that time, the couple could have divorced and returned to their respective families. Their love endured despite the bigotry underpinning their treatment, the systemic efforts to keep them apart. Loving also serves as a reminder that we don’t have to look back very far to find the pointless antagonism that defines race in America. We can appreciate how far we’ve come, but the relatively recent timing of these events shows that true equality in America remains a promise unfulfilled.
|Loving Movie Info|
|Studio:||Focus Features, Universal|
|Release Date:||November 4, 2016|