Loving (2016): Movie Review

Loving (2016)

dir. Jeff Nichols

written by: Jeff Nichols

starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton 


3.25 out of 4 stars

The worst part about Jeff Nichols’ Loving is that it would have been better suited competing against A Beautiful Mind for Best Picture. The southern gothic appeal of Jeff Nichols’ previous work did not lead me to believe a prestige sheen would create a film over the movie. The grip I felt with Take Shelter, and to a lesser extent Mud and Midnight Special, relied on a suspension of belief within a Southern Gothic profile, and his suddenly grounded perspective spelled excitement at the departure from form. I just expected that departure to be in narrative departure from the standard biopic, not his departure from directorial style.

What he delivered was a soft portrait, finely quotable and nearly tear inducing, of a landmark civil rights case in the United States. With the election of Our High Father Racist Yam and a trigger happy police force just given an Alt-Right cabinet, we need reminders of the steps our average citizen has made to effect change, even when they have been unaware of the impact upon decision. When Richard Loving married his pregnant girlfriend Mildred in 1958, they did not anticipate the decade long legal battle to follow; they just wanted to be left alone.

The delivery was lovely, if a bit dated. Jeff Nichols’ screenplay delivered a charming story of lovestruck Virginians fucked over by the abrasive assholes around him. Aspirations were meager; they wanted to be left alone to raise a family. Richard (24) and Mildred (18) found themselves embroiled in a discriminatory case filled with the same hatred bubbling in that pile of deplorables. Joel Edgerton (Kinky Boots, Warrior) and Ruth Negga (Preacher, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) delve into their character acting with exceptional ability. Edgerton is lovably baffled and strikingly sincere in his showcase, but he’s caught attempting to shine.
Ruth Negga is really able to catapult her name to a best actress nomination. She seems to be the only contributing member who understood they were in Jeff Nichols’ bucolic, humanist drama, and that includes Nichols’ himself. The way dialogue rolls off her with innocence and pride, Negga seems like she’s hardly been elsewhere. “I know we have some enemies, but we have some friends too.” There has to be conviction behind a line that pure. Each glance lands on film with striking reality, even if the surrounding hamming detracts from the full beauty of her performance. Her emotional peak (“I’m gonna raise my family here. I don’t care what they do to us.”) reveals the passion behind the injustice she’s found.

Besides the glossy production and directorial mishaps, the major flaw was Nick Kroll. A less recognizable face would have better served the role, and a face substantially less known for being goofy would’ve been advisable. His performance wasn’t bad; he just did not match the rest of the movie, and he could not blend into the 1960’s perspective the film was attempting to deliver. I adore the effort put into the movie; it shows, and that’s kind of a compliment (but in the most “I loved Ruth Negga”-type of way). The film around the lead actors ebbed from powerful to perfunctory to pleasant, but there’s a certain charm buried under its surface. Or maybe that’s just Ruth Negga.


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