Directed by Jeff Nichols
2016 Biographical Drama
2 hours 3 minutes
From Focus Features
Bless Focus Features for again providing a thoughtful commentary on an important issue... and in this case based on a true story that is important in American history. I could have been off watching earthlings and aliens working on their communication or watching little creatures popping out of suitcases and coat pockets (and those are probably fine options as well) but I am glad I chose what I did.
From my basket of adorables, I get the biographical aspect, a trip to the south, wonderful writing, an exquisite rendering of time, place, mood and feel and wonderful acting by the entire cast with special focus, of course, on these two leads. It was not only a pleasurable two hours and three minutes but we can add to it the excitement of being on my way to seeing it and the glow of the discussion afterward.
The historical aspect deals with civil rights, marriage equality, the overturning of miscegenation laws and a Supreme Court case waiting to happen. On a personal level it concerns a white man and a black woman, Virginia residents, Richard and Mildred Loving, who, in 1958, ran off and married in Washington, D.C. That and the child they soon had set off a chain of events that saw them doing jail time to living somewhat uncomfortably around members of their own families to an ACLU attorney to a Life Magazine spread and finally to the Supreme Court.
The historical aspects of their case can be looked up on Wikipedia but then one would miss this absorbing, heartfelt film. Those adjectives are used chiefly because this film is a very personal one. Let's call it a loving look at the Lovings. Of course their case is ingrained in the plot but it is their marriage that is at the heart of it all. I think I would have preferred two or three additional scenes at the beginning to give us the history of their pairing... how did they meet, what were the earliest times like, what discussions did they have of their color differences. Nonetheless, their relationship is front and center. What meant a lot to me is that, as written and performed, I got that the Lovings truly loved one another. Neither was apparently a chatterbox; therefore, it was shown. Oh yes, it was absorbing and heartfelt.
These are just plain folk. Their expressions are mainly glum which could certainly have been a result of their always-impoverished lives. He is a bricklayer and she is a field worker turned homemaker. She is closer to her family than he is to his but we seem to meet them all which gives us a truer picture how life was back in 1958 and for the 10 or so years afterward. He protects her and makes her feel safe enough, loved enough, to allow herself to step out of her comfort zone and look for a way out of their mess. From the beginning, she knew she would be stepping forward for the many folks who might not make the move.
One absolutely perfect consideration of this film is the easy way in which it plays out. We are not beaten over the head with the miscegenation issue, from either point of view, despite the fact it's always there. There are no fight scenes... physical or verbal. There aren't even any real bad guys, no Klan, no dumbass townsfolk. Some might want to make the cops the bad guys here, but the truth is they are only upholding the law of the times. The screenplay could have made them bullies but wisely chose not to go there.
Director Nichols, a child of the south himself, likely sprinkled the film with his own sense of regional flare, as he did in Mud (2002). For the most part, he pieced this together like a lovely mosaic.
|The real Richard and Mildred|
A blonded Joel Edgerton was a perfect fit for Richard Loving. Again, I think those aforementioned scenes I wish had been added would have provided some nuance, some more understanding of Richard. His facial business was perfection but I still wished his near-muteness would have been more suggested. This, of course, is not critical of Edgerton as much as it's about the writing (which is Nichols as well).
As they may say in the south... I was simply charmed, charmed I tell you, by Ruth Negga's performance. Her Mildred was more warm and fuzzy than Richard and I think one is drawn to her quiet strength. The immense trust she had in her husband was very profound for me.
What abilities I may or may not have to critique movies tells me this is a 3-star one but my heart makes it a four.
I also think it's completely reasonable to say Loving can claim its deserving spot alongside any of our great Civil Rights stories.