Hot on the heels of acclaimed sci-fi mystery Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols is back with an adaptation of the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia with Loving. Lawrence reviews.
Loving is based on a true story of a sensitive nature, which is as much to critics as putting garlic up is to vampires: Effective, but we’re conniving devils and we can always find a way. Here it is no different, but I am pleased to inform you that Loving holds itself against the merciless gaze just fine, for the most part, in any case.
The story follows Richard and Mildred Loving (Yes, “Loving” is their name, chalk that one up as one of those “true story” things). The events of the film follow the lead-up to the 1967 landmark “Loving v. Virginia” Supreme Court case which struck down the laws prohibiting mixed race marriages in America. Richard is a bricklayer, and a taciturn fellow besides; he don’t want to start no fights, legal or otherwise, and would be very happy to just live with his wife in peace. Mildred acts as the spine, the driving force for change: writing to Robert Kennedy, giving interviews, arranging meetings with the ACLU etcetera.
Despite what you would expect, most of the racism encountered by the Lovings is strictly institutionalised, the closest we come to any kind of hateful act is a brick found in Richard’s car, though it certainly succeeds in worming away at Richard. We have a few near-scares, but in the end, they all seem to exist entirely in Richard’s head. This is fine for first viewings, for all we know those people driving behind Richard are following him home and we are appropriately worried for him, but we’ll never get that feeling of dread second time round once we know he’s just paranoid. Sympathy, perhaps; but never dread.
If so far this sounds like a legal drama, don’t be fooled; the Lovings spend maybe five minutes’ screen time in court, and don’t even appear at the all-important hearing. What we really have is more of a romance-centric Slice-of-life flick than anything else, a biopic even. This is a generous way of saying “very little happens, but that’s okay”. Indeed, aside from the initial arrest that sparks the whole debacle and the grand trial, the bulk of the film is the Lovings simply making do and living their lives in the meantime.
Where the strength of this film lies is with its leading duo, Joel Edgerton as Richard Loving is an imposing, stoic teddy bear with the weight of the world on his countenance. Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving transitions from mousy girl with a crush to confident media manipulator and public face of the family so subtly that she almost appears cunningly deceptive about it, in a good way, of course. Slightly less impressive is Nick Kroll as ACLU attorney Bernie Cohen; what I can only presume is meant to be a nervous greenhorn tackling his first big case instead seems almost comically neurotic, was this intentional? It’s out of place, and not terribly funny, in any case.
While obviously important from a social standpoint, the Lovings reaction to the outcome of the big decision is simply one of understated relief, as it only validates what they already knew to be true and allows them to continue doing the things they had already been doing for some time. This coupled with a rather sobering where-are-they-now epilogue made for a decidedly deflated ending. I can understand a desire to remain true to life but that adage about happy endings depending on where you end the story is especially true to “Real” stories, and the last-second titbit only really serves to create a considerable “shaggy dog” sensation.
Ultimately, Loving is a competently film made by capable hands in every regard; you’ll appreciate this movie in the moment, but don’t be surprised to find yourself struggling to remember it in a year’s time, beyond its connection to the historical events.