Loving Review: Trials of Love In a World Full of Hate

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Many of the films worth remembering about racial tension, and there are a great many, subscribe to one of two tones. First, there are the warm, Hollywood stories of people coming together to smooth things out (The Help, Remember the Titans). Second, there are the ultra-subtle, heavy on detail films that examine the deeper parts of the human psyche damaged by inequality (Selma, Moonlight). Jeff Nichols’ Loving tries to have it both ways, which proves to be a strenght in ambition but a weakness in execution.

Based on the true story of Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court that would force the states to accept interracial marriages as legitimate, the film starts as an intimate family drama in which the family is forced apart by the unquestionably racist people of their rural Virginia town. Taking place over a decade, we see the family at their lowest, spending the night in county prison in separate cells, and at their highest, relaxing on the couch watching sitcoms.

Loving’s smaller moments are it’s most beautiful, largely made so by Nichols’ frequent use of close-ups and long takes to make the drama as human and real as possible. But then credit also has to be given to the actors. Joel Edgarton’s subdued portrayal of Richard Loving is the obvious standout. He hardly makes eye contact with anyone but his wife, but Edgarton places the emotions of his struggle right beneath the surface, making them accessible to us with the sort of acting that takes tremendous discipline and control. As Mildred Loving, his wife, Ruth Negga adds a warm center to their quiet but undeniable chemistry. She faces their legal problems differently, yet with the same strength of her husband, but not always in a way he understands. Nichols’ deep exploration of marriage under great trial is profound and complex, not unlike the layers he brought to the family drama in his other feature this year, the indie sci-fi hit Midnight Special.

But as the Lovings’ case gains momentum in the court system, the film starts to dabble in more obvious forms of expression. Scenes where the score swells at emotional moments and characters brought on to lighten the mood, such as Nick Kroll’s Bernie Cohen, the couple’s lawyer, become more frequent. It doesn’t exactly rob Loving of its subtlety, but it does make it less consistent. The deliberate pacing of the film reaps fewer rewards this way, making it feel unnecessarily overlong.

Still, even after the fact, Loving remains an affecting drama that does a great service for love of all shapes and sizes. The performances and the quiet direction are strong enough to overcome the awkward tonal shifts of the second half. There will certainly be better movies this awards season, and there already are (Moonlight), but Loving still has a lot to offer moviegoers of all varieties. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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