Story, direction are the highlights of 'Loving'
Based on name alone, Richard and Mildred Loving were the perfect case to bring before the United States Supreme Court to bring an end to laws that made interracial marriage illegal.
Nearly 50 after the landmark decision of Loving v. Virginia, the couple has their story told in the aptly titled, “Loving.”
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star as Mildred and Richard Loving the biographical ‘Loving.’ (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) are a young interracial couple in 1958 Virginia. Despite their differences, and the protests of many of their white neighbors, they are happy and looking forward to the future together. When Mildred announces she's pregnant, the timeline speeds up and Joel whisks her away to Washington, D.C. where interracial marriages were legal.
Upon returning to Virginia, the couple finds themselves on the wrong side of the law. To avoid prison, they plead guilty and agree to leave the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Several years down the line the Loving family is happy and growing, but would be much happier if they could move back to their homes. After finding a powerful political ally they find themselves fighting alongside ACLU attorneys Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass) who are willing to help them fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
The thing I appreciate most about “Loving,” is how writer/director Jeff Nichols just drops you into the story. He doesn't waste time explaining the racial and political climate of the south in the 1950s, and he doesn't show how Mildred and Richard became a couple or any hardships they might have experienced along the way. We're just immediately shown their loving, committed relationship and are able to hit the ground running … well, kind of, anyway.
Life photographer Grey Villet (Michael Shannon) waits to take candid photos of Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard (Joel Edgerton) Loving in ‘Loving.’ (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
“Loving” is most definitely a slow burn. It consistently gets to where it needs to be tonally, but it takes its time getting there. Nichols does an incredible job of building tension and making you hate the people that deserved to be hated.
What's truly lacking from “Loving,” however, is any feeling for the heroes of the story. In real life, I think it's amazing what this couple went through just to stay together, but on screen I really didn't feel anything for either of them. Edgerton and Negga had virtually no chemistry – I never once got the sense that they were a couple.
But even worse was the “dramatic” turn of Nick Kroll. Known more for his comedy, Kroll's performance as Cohen is proof that he should stick to comedy. Despite the serious situation he Cohen was facing by taking this case, Kroll rarely (ever?) allowed his used car salesman grin to leave his face and his delivery was more middle school student reading a presentation from notebook paper than actual actor.
In fact, the only redeeming acting performance of the entire film came by way of Michael Shannon in a very brief appearance as quirky Life photographer Grey Villet.
Unfortunately, the lack of quality acting is what really holds “Loving” back from being an amazing film. Nichols crafted a strong screenplay from an already amazing story, the costuming was top-notch and the cinematography beautiful.
With even “solid” lead performances, “Loving” would probably be on most short lists for Best Picture consideration. Instead, it's simply a middle-of-the-road telling of an otherwise amazing story.
★★★ of ★★★★★