…but luckily, that’s still better than a lot of others at their best.
After a string of what I’ve personally thought of as great movies (Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special), Jeff Nichols turns in a good one rather than another great one with Loving. This is the first time he’s working with a story based on true events, and I think that may have been at least part of the reason this film didn’t really live up to what I’ve expected from him. The Lovings’ story is an important one indeed, but I think it would have made for much more interesting fare for documentary rather than a narrative based film.
In Loving there is no strong paternal relationship to be seen. Richard and Mildred have three kids and Richard obviously loves them very much, but Take Shelter, Mud, and Midnight Special all have fathers that display strong affection for their children. In Mud, this paternal bond actually comes from Matthew McConaughey, not the protagonist’s father, but there is still a paternal bond that we see formed. What Loving does have in common with Nichols’ other films, though, is the sense of something big in opposition to the protagonist(s) that ends up being somewhat of a MacGuffin. Midnight Special is about a boy with powers, sure, but it’s much more about what a father will do for his child to be happy. Take Shelter is about Michael Shannon fearing a giant storm, yes, but really it’s a story of how a man comes to terms with what he has to do to protect his family. Sound familiar?
In the same way, Loving is about a landmark supreme court case. But the film isn’t called Loving v. Virginia because it’s not really about that. It’s about the Lovings and their relationship. It’s a romance, not a legal drama. So I think, yet again, the trailer is a bit misleading. To that end, the film starts pretty slow. Now if you have seen any of the aforementioned Nichols flicks, this pacing is not surprising. The difference here is we know the ending already because it’s based on true events, so the pacing works against it.
Solving that problem for the most part though is Adam Stone on cinematography duty and David Wingo scoring the film. Stone has shot every Nichols film and they clearly have a great rapport because there were some moments in the film that were so beautiful to look at. There are rarely close-ups. Mid, full, and landscape shots are much more common. It gives the sense that these people are part of something much bigger, which they were. And Wingo’s lovely score is interspersed with period songs that are all great, too, so that helped quite a bit.
A few notes on the acting in the film. First, Joel Edgerton is a great actor, and Jeff Nichols loves to write male characters that are very closed off. Joel Edgerton’s portrayal of Richard Loving, however accurate it may be, is so closed off as to be inaccessible. He doesn’t speak much, and except for a couple of moments, he was completely inconsequential to the scene. If he had been removed, a lot of the film would have been the exact same. Second, Ruth Negga was great as Mildred Loving, she was the protagonist if you ask me and Negga was a large part of that feeling. Finally, please nobody ever cast Nick Kroll in a dramatic role again. I think he may have been capable at one time, but his public persona at this point is so imbued with sarcasm that I can’t take anything he says seriously or sincerely. And I really don’t think that’s just me, because my fiancé has never watched The League or seen Kroll Show or anything else with him except I Love You, Man and one of her main complaints about the film was that Nick Kroll didn’t seem like he was taking it seriously. Just no more drama for Kroll.
In the end, I’m happy to have seen the film. I won’t be returning to this one as soon as I will any of Nichols’ other films, but it’s still worth seeing at least once. But if you miss it in the theater, don’t beat yourself up about it.
Also, was anyone else surprised that Colin Firth was one of the producers? Not saying I wouldn’t expect him to believe in the message of the film, I just had no idea he was involved at all.