Review: Loving

Review: Loving

A soft open with silences halted by quiet expression. Second looks and furtive glances shared. The reserved nature of the characters is established by the spaces between them and sets the tone for Jeff Nichols' latest film, Loving. This is a film to be admired for its restraint.

 Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Most people are interested in finding love. For some, that journey will be as simple as meeting someone and making it work. For others, there are any number of obstacles that must be overcome before love flourishes. For Richard and Mildred Loving (played beautifully by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, respectively), the primary obstacle was overcoming the state-manifested bigotry that made their marriage illegal. 

The film starts with the revelation that this interracial couple in rural 1950s Virginia is pregnant. That news, coupled with their growing love, makes them decide to get married, so they drive up to Washington, D.C. where it is legal to do so. Once married, they return to small town Virginia to face persecution at every level. From family to law enforcement, their marriage is viewed as a bad idea.

 Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Eventually, they are arrested under Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws and forced to leave the state and live elsewhere for 25 years. Longing to return home to raise their growing family, the Lovings are approached by lawyers with the ACLU who view their case as a vehicle to have the Supreme Court strike down anti-miscegenation laws nationwide. Loving v. Virginia and its impact on Constitutional Law is well-documented, but film offers a look into the domestic life at the center of the landmark litigation.

Quiet, understated, reserved, simple. These are just a few of the labels that could be applied to the film. Much like the couple at the center of the story, it is straightforward and unassuming. It isn't adorned with the kind of brash confrontation that usually fills legal dramas, and that's because for the most part, this isn't a legal drama. It is a love story. Albeit one that must overcome the state, societal norms and outright prejudices. Telling their story in the no frills way Nichols does allows the audience the room to contemplate and feel in a way that never feels contrived. It also allows you the room to connect their struggle to the plights of so many who fight to live their lives the way they wish. 

 Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Both Negga and Edgerton are doing wonderful work in the film, but Edgerton's Richard Loving feels as real as it gets. So tortured and so introverted, the performance relies more on the silences than the beats, which Edgerton makes look easy. The big-hearted pride needed to live these experiences shines through every frame of Edgerton's performance and gives the film its emotional center. 

For some viewers, the staid nature of the storytelling here will not be a virtue. There are moments of bigotry so brazen that the Lovings might seem lifeless for not responding in kind. However, Nichols' storytelling offers so much of the inner dialogue that it is hard not to just feel for them. As you take in their new urban surroundings through Mildred's eyes, you feel her longing for home. As you watch Richard lay bricks to build homes for others, you experience his pain at not being able to do so for Mildred. Beautifully crafted and immaculately acted, these moments are the film's impact. Quiet though they are, their impact will be lasting. 

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