Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Alano Miller
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements
Runtime: 2 hrs. 3 mins.
As the Academy Award hopefuls roll out this holiday season, there’s a quiet but Oscar-worthy film that could easily be overlooked. As the title Loving indicates, it’s a story about marriage, family, community and, most of all, love at its most basic: Two people wanting to live together, make a home together, have children.
What’s unique about this? Before Richard Loving (who was white) and his wife, Mildred (who was African American), won a Supreme Court case in 1967 that repealed state laws barring interracial marriage, they were a small-town couple who were convicted in 1959 under Virginia state law for being illegally married.
While they bore this legal burden for eight years, they moved to Washington, D.C., had three children, moved back to Virginia, and struggled to keep their family together, even as their case wound through the court system.
Loving is a personal look at what Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) went through behind the scenes. They are both quiet people; in the most positive sense, country people. Their real problem: One is black, the other is white. They love each other. In 1950s Virginia, that in and of itself was enough to send you to jail.
Director Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) seems to wander in and out of the lives of the Loving family. He provides digital snippets of what the Lovings went through as they did what seemed normal to them despite their racial differences and in the face of white resistance.
But beyond their marriage, Loving is as much a cultural as a racial exploration. Richard, raised within the African-American community, is an anomaly. Though his skin is white, he lives as a black man. His friends are black. His wife is black. He’s fully welcomed as a part of Mildred’s family. So, little wonder that he barely blinks when he asks Mildred to marry him. For Richard and Mildred, this is just common sense. They find it confusing that other people can’t seem to understand this basic premise: They love each other.
Nichols is a visual filmmaker. His camera shots integrate the Virginia scenery as part of the story. He gives the viewers ample opportunity to fly across the landscape and understand that there’s no separation between the community and the soil. They live together as mutual co-habitants.
Richard and Mildred are salt-of-the-earth people. They aren’t ideal. They aren’t perfect. They’re just family who love where they live and feel disjointed when they’re forced into exile in Washington, D.C. The land is what eventually drives the Lovings to return to Virginia illegally. There’s a strong relationship, not only between Richard and Mildred but between Richard, Mildred, and the countryside. Mildred’s face shines when they finally move back. It’s all in her smile and Richard takes note.
This is a spare movie because the Lovings themselves are people of few words who are forced to deal with a complicated legal system that drives them into the spotlight. Edgerton reveals a working-class side that seems as natural as the landscape. Negga has the face of a child but cultivates an inner strength, a determination to free their family and live on their own.
You might blink and miss this film. I would recommend that you view it while you can and be embraced by its rough background, racial divisions and struggle for the right to love.
Loving is not a dramatic film in the traditional sense. It floats like a river, rises and falls with the sunshine and snow, changes seasons, and finally eases into its ending like a boat to a dock. Walking away, admiring the scenery, you realize you’ve been adopted by the story because, in the end, as with the Lovings themselves, you’ve been introduced to and embraced by a much larger world.