Directed by Jeff Nichols
There have been several films this year that show just how far our society has come…which, of course, really highlight, in these dark times, just how quickly things can go in reverse. “Loving”, Jeff Nichols history/civics lesson on the root of one of those major steps forward, is perhaps the most emotionally engaging of any “breaking barriers” film this year. Greenlit and completed long before the most recent election, the film should stand out as a beautiful expression of courage, tenacity, and how governance (re: the judicial branch) can actually work for its citizens. But in context of where we are today, I felt no joy or pride at the end of the film, as I believe is intended. I was left only with fear, trepidation and anger that this incredible couple’s accomplishments show the ever-temporary nature of fights won. I’m sure that’s my hetero-normative, white male privilege at work, since any persons of color, LGBT citizens, physically challenged individuals or females would not be surprised at my feelings in the least, since they have had to deal with the ‘one step forward – two steps back’ nature of society everyday of their existence. But, in context of the film, what I’m trying to say is that perhaps Jeff Nichols hoped-for response to the film was subjugated by current history…which might explain why it did not do as well as expected at the box office.
For those who don’t know, the film centers around the battle for the marriage of a mixed race couple to be acknowledged as legitimate…since, at the time (the fifties), it was legally prohibited in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And, luckily for us, Nichols makes this story less about the legal battle, and, instead, focuses on the day to day of their love & lives, and the incredible sacrifices they must make to be that test couple…to be responsible for changing the laws (and history) of this country.
Even luckier for us that we have these two actors to portray them. Ruth Negga, nominated for an Oscar and better known for playing the kick-ass Tulip on AMC’s “Preacher”, is sensational. Quiet and caring, but with incredible force and subjugated anger underneath, hers is a bravura performance, worthy of being in the conversation by any group who hands out awards for such things. Joel Edgerton, whose performances I have not cared for since “Warrior” and “Animal Kindgom” is sensational here. Playing a quietly seething man of his time, yet filled with love, Edgerton also successfully plays a character, instead of just playing the emotion. It’s a balancing act we haven’t seen from him before and it’s worth experiencing. The minor characters also add quite a bit, especially Michael Shannon in a brilliant blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance.
I would be remiss not to mention Adam Stone’s gorgeous cinematography, and the intelligence of director Nicholls for letting his film linger on these beautiful pictures. Without these reminders of how beautiful the world they are from is, we would never understand why this couple wants to stay in a Virginia that wants them to leave so desperately. Further, because of these gorgeous tableaus, I felt the movie helped to define what “home” is….a place where the sights, light, sounds and smells are what make us feel as if we belong. Too few directors are unwilling to risk a film being called “slow” to do this.
Finally, we get to David Wingo’s score. While limited in its themes, the score is beautiful and accomplishes much in context with the film. That it is a standout is made obvious by the fact that I have now heard its main theme in a trailer for another film and for a commercial. Beautiful.
“Loving” was sadly left trailing in the dust behind films such as “Hidden Figures”, the juggernaut that is “La La Land” and the critical force of nature that is “Moonlight”. And it didn’t help that Focus Films marketing arm is apparently a shambles of its former self. A shame, because, while this story is told in a much more languid way than these other notable films, it is every bit as worthy of your time, your pride, and your anger.
Trailer here, which is a bit overly dramatic for such a quietly intense film…but stick around until the trailer ends to hear a snippet of the film music I talk about (the trailer music is not from the film).
Written on 2/16/2017