Movie Review: ‘Loving’
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, and Nick Kroll
Plot: In the 1960s, interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, fight the state of Virginia to prove the integrity of their relationship.
Based on the real life Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, that made banning interracial marriage unconstitutional, Loving starts off with an upward battle. I find that many of the movies about the years during and leading up to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s have a hard time juggling the idea that this was just how it used to be without outright vilifying anyone. Not that they shouldn’t be vilified, but Bryce Dallas Howard in The Help, for instance, might as well have been twirling a black mustache and tying damsels to train tracks, she was that cartoonish of an antagonist. It is hard to take seriously when so many of us think of it as being such out-dated ways of thinking (despite the recent evidence of the contrary).
If anyone was up to the challenge, Jeff Nichols was the director to succeed. His movies thus far have captured Southern zeitgeists through understated performances. The sideways glances that the Lovings get from white and black folks alike are much more threatening and sad than a dramatically violent act. The threats are so underplayed that the only brick used to send the Lovings a message was placed in their car through an open window with a page from a Time Magazine article detailing the Lovings fight against Virginia. No vulgar note. No broken glass. Just a paper weight. That kind of seething racism just under the surface feels more frightening because it feels more genuine.
The underplaying in the movie hobbles it a bit. While Ruth Negga is bubbly and likable as Mildred, Joel Edgerton is very soft-spoken to the point that he sort of disappears. He kind of looks like he is just taking up space. His chemistry with Negga is him just being with her in the same frame. Maybe it is an accurate portrayal of Richard Loving, who is the ultimate reluctant hero. I don’t know much about him, but if you can get passed Edgerton’s low-energy, I think there is an interesting take on fighting for these rights.
Edgerton and Negga are not looking to be heroes. They aren’t looking to change the world. They are just trying to be. They don’t even attend the Supreme Court hearing. Richard is reluctant to the bitter end. It is like he can’t even figure out why anyone would care who he marries. When Nick Kroll, who plays the couples’ ACLU-approved lawyer, asks Richard if there is anything he wants to say to the Supreme Court justices, Richard says, “Tell them I love my wife.” Not some overwrought, philosophical, revelatory one liner to throw up on the poster. Just” Tell them I love my wife.” Nothing else matters. It is the ultimate call for acceptance, the simplest pretense-free and agenda-less act that shows how trivial fighting against this really is. We often lose sight of why things are the way they are when we fight back against perceived changes, the presumed re-defining of marriage, whether interracial back then or same-sex couples today. What the opposition may never truly understand is we are re-defining marriage every time we fight against love.