Love the one you’re with. Screw the haters.
It’s 1958 in Central Point, Virginia and Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) fall in love with one another, are having a child together and you know what? They decide that they want to get married. However, because she’s black and he’s white, they’re not allowed to get married in their own home state, so they decide to drive all the way to Washington and get hitched the right way. When they get back to their hometown, not only do they realize that almost everyone in the town knows about their marriage, but they’re not quite happy about it, either. Most importantly, though, it’s law enforcement who wants both of them out of their town and somehow, find a way to make that happen. So now, Mildred and Richard are forced to move to Washington, D.C., away from the rest of their family and feeling more ostracized than ever before, until they realize that what’s happened to them, above all else, isn’t right and sure as hell isn’t legal. So they band together, pick up a lawyer (Nick Kroll) and decide to take their case to the Supreme Court, against all odds and with some sort of sliver of hope that they’ll be able to stay married and get back to their families, once and for all, like they have the right to.
Although he’s one of the far more interesting and compelling voices in film today, writer/director Jeff Nichols still found a way to disappoint the hell out of me with Midnight Special. Sure, it was an ambitious change for him and to be fair, the first two-thirds of it are probably great, but man oh man, that final-act and twist? Yeah, just didn’t work for me and felt like maybe, just possibly maybe, Nichols got a bit too ahead of himself and stretched out further than he could go.
But now, over eight months later, and Nichols has got another movie, which in ways, is still a bit of a change for him – a true, fact-based tale about Mildred and Richard Loving. It’s a tale that deserves to be told with absolute tender, love, care and integrity, which is everything that Nichols brings to the material; he’s very much in his wheelhouse of giving us small details about these characters and their lives, without ever seeming like he’s overdoing it or trying to get at something. If anything, he’s just telling a story of two people, who fell in love, got married and for some reason or another, weren’t allowed to.
In a way, it’s a change for Nichols, but it’s also very much what we’ve seen from him before.
And because of that, Loving works in small, glorious ways. Nichols is a smart writer and director in that he knows how these “based on a true story” movies can go – over-the-top, melodramatic, corny – and opts out for the exact opposite. Instead of going overboard with the raw and powerful emotions, he downplays everything, as if we aren’t just watching a movie happen in front of our very own eyes, but life itself. It works, in that it makes us feel closer to the Loving’s than ever before and also helps make us feel more and more for their situation, as if that wasn’t hard to do in the first place.
It also helps that both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are quite great in their roles, showing off a great deal of sincerity, even when they’re trying so hard to bottle-up all of their feelings and emotions. It’s interesting that the movie paints the them as two separate people who feel differently about the situation that they’ve unfortunately been thrown into; she’s all about the spotlight and believes that the more eyes on the case, the better, while he just wants to be left alone, stay quiet, and sit in the corner, unseen or unheard. It’s an interesting contrast that does wonders for their performances, especially Negga who’s smile and pure beauty lights up any room that she pops up in here.
Then again though, the movie does drop the ball on actually making us feel something for their love and their passion, which was, above all else, the most important aspect. Due to Nichols having to focus on so many other aspects of the story (the court case, the racial prejudices, the other family-members drama), it’s hard not to realize that the Loving’s themselves sort of get shoved away to the side, in that we never quite feel their love, their passion, or their fight for one another. They sort of just dance a little bit, kiss a lot, have babies, hold hands, and yeah, that’s about it.
If that’s true, inspired love, then hey, maybe I’m missing something. But either way, if you’re going to make a movie about a married-couple who love one another so damn much, that they’re willing to beat the odds and take on the man, to ensure that they have those God-given rights, then why not allow for us to feel that said romance?
Either way, Edgerton and Negga always stay good and compelling, regardless of the shortcomings of the script.
Same goes for the supporting cast who are all fine, with the exception of maybe one. It’s hard not to mention Nick Kroll when you’re speaking about Loving, because, as much as I hate to say it, he does stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a bit of inspired casting to have Kroll play the Civil Rights lawyer who does eventually pick up the Loving’s case, but it also doesn’t help that Kroll, for some reason or another, decided to play this character as a fun-loving, somewhat chirpy dude from the 50’s who talks as if he was a deleted scene from Fargo. It’s weird, too, because I’ve seen Kroll really do some great work with dramatic-material, but here, he just doesn’t fit in, especially when you have the likes of Bill Camp, Michael Shannon, and Martin Csokas, and others, showing up and putting in great work.
Consensus: While imperfect, Loving is still a sign that Jeff Nichols is back on the track to telling small, character-driven stories about love, romance and happiness, even without ever seeming preachy or melodramatic, given the true story-aspect.
7.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire