I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Editor
Interracial marriage drama merely goes through the motions
The story of Richard and Mildred Loving is no doubt an important one: They’re the couple at the center of the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling that overturned laws against interracial marriage. But oftentimes in movies that are based on true stories, we hope they say more than what we can read in a newspaper article or book. As we’ve come to know, film is a visual medium and it gives filmmakers the opportunity to impact us in ways we could never get from words on a page.
Unfortunately, as talented as writer-director Jeff Nichols (MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, MUD) has proven himself to be, he has lost his touch to give his movies the heart they deserve.
His latest film, LOVING, showcases commendable performances and a story worth hearing — especially in times like this — but its cut-and-dry application doesn’t breathe the life it needs to make it a truly great film.
LOVING begins with Richard (a miscast Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (an award-worthy Ruth Negga) sitting on a porch, taking in the night sky as they learn they are pregnant with their first child. The notion of creating life brings them a joy and a thrill to start their lives together. However, the world around them feels less sympathetic to their cause.
It’s 1958 and the era’s ugly Jim Crow race laws blackened America’s heart. So when the Virginian couple takes to Washington, D.C., to wed, this, of course, doesn’t bode well with those back home. Upon settling into their new lives together, they are awoke in their bed to the sound of their hometown’s law enforcement breaking into their house to lock them up for breaking the state’s racial integrity laws.
This is as heartbreaking to watch as one could imagine. To be pulled apart from your spouse, confused and helpless — it pierces one’s soul. And Negga’s performance during this sequence, which holds strong throughout the film’s entirety, highlights the intensity and fear of what unfolds before our eyes.
After their arrest, the Lovings plead guilty on the advice of their legal counsel (Bill Camp) and avoid an extended prison sentence on one vital condition: If they remain together, they leave the state of Virginia to never enter again for a period of 25 years.
Just when you couldn’t bear to handle more, the story pulls at your heartstrings to the point of rupture. This is the power of the Lovings’ real-life story: It places us in their shoes, imagining how arduous it had to have been to leave your family behind to relocate to a life you never envisioned for yourself. And how long it took for the Lovings to get their bind noticed and changed only furthers our want to change and bring about grace to those around us.
The critical trouble of Nichols’s film, on the other hand, is how much compassion it lacks while telling this influential story. The chemistry between its two leads doesn’t ring with an authenticity that would cause audiences to become fully invested. This is mostly due to the Lovings’ thinly written relationship, which primarily consists of more tell than show.
In two scenes — one of them on a couch watching THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and another of them looking into other’s eyes while being questioned by the press — Negga and Edgerton find a way to break through the script to give Richard and Mildred’s love the spark the film needs. In spite of this, what remains in the scenes in between doesn’t fortify Nichols’ ability to write multi-dimensional characters.
While the Lovings’ incredible story of conquering racism still transmits hope today, Nichols’s presentation merely goes through the motions of the central couple’s account without deepening our perspectives or furnishing it with the affection it requires to transcend.
LOVING opens in limited release today.
Dallas: Angelika Film Center in Dallas