Loving is another great film by Jeff Nichols, who tells this true story about the power of love with a quiet beauty that you won’t be able to resist.
Richard Loving, a white man, married Mildred Loving, a black woman, in Virginia, 1958. This was not legal, and the two were arrested and given a suspended sentence if they lived out of state, and never re-entered the state together, for 25 years. This was the best deal the lawyer could cut them, but slowly and surely over time, the Loving’s began to quietly fight their way back into living in the state they both called home.
The film’s back half includes the inclusion of the ACLU’s support of the Loving’s and their appeals, but the film is a pretty straight forward affair as the Lovings live on in a world away from a world that won’t let them be together. Leaving behind their families and everything they knew, Richard and Mildred took different paths to try to return home. Mildred begins to use the system that is slowly building in the world to support them, while Richard struggles to just keep his family together and not get thrown into prison. Nichols film quietly shows you this family’s many year journey, there aren’t really any big dramatic moments or shocks, but you feel like you are right along with the Lovings as they deal with the world they were given. It is just simple, beautiful storytelling that completely conveys the characters’ struggles without ever forcing them to yell out the themes that are driving them. Nichols likes to take a minimalist approach to his filmmaking as of late, and it’s never been more effective here.
The early part of the film is also an oddly timely portrait of what happens when racism and hate are allowed to penetrate our law enforcement and legal system, made all the more terrifying by the recent developments in our political system. We can’t turn back the clock to the times where people of color and those they love could be manipulated and controlled so easily by the law, it hasn’t got all that much better in the fifty years since the Lovings married. This film is supposed to severe as a celebration that all that is good and decent in this world will ultimately prevail, not as a reminder of where this country could be heading if certain people have their way.
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star as the Lovings, and both of them are quietly fantastic in their respective roles. Edgerton is doing so much without barely uttering a word, quietly showing his stress, love and anger without ever going over the top. Negga is a soft presence as well, but I loved how she came alive, in Mildred’s way, as soon as she saw hope that this exile might legally end. Her chemistry with Edgerton is as sincere as can be and I could watch these two cuddle on the couch for two hours and still feel all the warmth you get from them in the first couple minutes. Their fights feel honest, their love for their children feels alive, and they are the reason you feel right along with the Lovings every step of the way in this film. Michael Shannon pops up for a scene as a photographer and is as electric as ever. Will Dalton is an instantly likeable personality you wish you got to see more of. While Nick Kroll shows up and provides some appropriate levity to the proceedings in the films back half.
Loving might be a straightforward biopic, but it is done about as well as one of these things can. It avoids the clichés of the genre thanks to Nichols’ streamlined approach and is bolstered by two wonderful performances by the film’s leads. Loving feels like an essential reminder of the power, peace and patience it sometimes takes for change and hopefully all of the progress through grace the Lovings achieved will not be forgotten as what they fought for sadly remains something that is objected today.