Movie Review: Loving (2016)

Posted: August 20, 2017 in Drama, Romance
Tags: ,

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In 1957, Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) told her boyfriend, Richard Loving  (Joel Edgerton) that she was pregnant.  Mildred was black and Native American, and Richard was white.  In 1958, they went to Washington DC to get married.  When they came back home to Virginia to live together as man and wife, they were arrested, because of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws.  The couple moves to DC, but decides to have their child in Virginia, again facing jail time for coming to Virginia together.  So, they move back to DC, and live there.  Mildred becomes more aware of the Civil Rights movement while living in DC, and writes a letter to Robert Kennedy to ask him to look into her case.  Kennedy passes the letter to an ACLU lawyer, named Bernie Cohen  (Nick Kroll) who along with Phil Hirschkop  (Jon Bass) take the case to the Supreme Court.  Do they win?

Loving V. Virginia is one of the most important civil rights cases in legal history. But the movie Loving lacks the intensity or gravity to make the story compelling.  I find it amazing that nobody on either side of the racial divide seemed to raise any objection to the nuptials. This story takes place in Virginia, home of the capital of the Confederacy, the couple marries in 1958, before the Civil Rights movement starts in earnest, and the only people that seem to object are members of the state government.  Loving’s mother raises the slightest objection, but it’s so politely stated, that the viewer might miss it. There is one scene where Richard senses a threat to himself, but nothing comes of it. This movie covers the high points of the story, but does it so blithely, and unemotionally, that all historical and legal import is lost.  The writer seems to soft-peddle the virulent racism of the time period in order to appeal to a 2016 audience’s sensibilities.  By doing so, the movie does a disservice to all who fought and died for Civil Rights and equal rights. The Supreme Court case, which is historic, is treated almost as an afterthought.  This could have been a great movie, but it’s not even a good movie.

Joel Edgerton plays Richard Loving as a laconic guy, maybe he didn’t speak a lot, but the quiet performance doesn’t make the movie any more interesting to watch.  Ruth Negga gives Mildred a little more of an edge, even though she is soft-spoken, and her cadence is slow, she clearly sees an injustice in her life and wants to correct it.  These two performances were central to the film, so it was vital that Negga and Edgerton have chemistry onscreen and they do.

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed the movie and while his script treads lightly on racism, the visual aspect of his direction seems to concentrate on the rural landscape of Virginia, there is even a closeup of a grasshopper at one point.  The pacing is too slow, 2 hours seems like 4 hours, and the portrait of the Lovings is too intimate, the story never broadens to address the larger implications of the case or even the threats they faced for bringing the case.  By keeping the scope narrow, director and writer Nicolls misses the point.  He does get good performances from Negga and Edgerton, that is the saving grace of this film.

June 12th was Loving Day, I hope you spent it with someone you love, watching another movie.

Loving.  Not much to love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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