Movie Review: ‘LOVING’ – where’s the love?

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Preston Barta // Editor

LOVING
Rated PG-13, 123 minutes.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will DaltonChristopher MannMarton CsokasBill CampDavid JensenNick Kroll and Michael Shannon

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.

Joel Edgerton (TAKE SHELTER) and Ruth Negga (PREACHER) as Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose marriage in 1958 resulted in arrest, in LOVING. Courtesy of Focus Features.

Joel Edgerton (TAKE SHELTER) and Ruth Negga (PREACHER) as Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose marriage in 1958 resulted in arrest, in LOVING. Courtesy of Focus Features.

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

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.