I have such a love/hate relationship with Jeff Nichols films. I thought Mud (Matthew McConaughey) was great. Midnight Special and Take Shelter had terrific moments, but were ultimately frustrating.
For Loving, Nichols brought two from the cast of Midnight Special — Michael Shannon (in a small part that brings some levity) and Joel Edgerton as Richard Loving. Yes, this is one of those rare times where a movie title named after the character works perfectly.
Richard Loving married Mildred Jeter. She was 17 at the time (the movie doesn’t address that) and pregnant. It was 1958, and they were from sharecropping families in Virginia. They drove to Washington, DC to get married, knowing that would be a lot less problematic.
She was African/Native American, he was Caucasian. He had the popular haircut of the day — the buzz cut. He was a carpenter, and his hobby was working on cars and drag racing with friends.
When the police barge into their home in the middle of the night, you realize things aren’t going to be easy. Obviously, we all start thinking about just how ridiculous segregation laws were (and not so long ago).
Since the Loving’s broke the state’s Racial Integrity Act, they were thrown in jail. They pleaded guilty, and part of their plea was to leave the state.
A letter to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1963 got the American Civil Liberties Union involved, and the ball rolling on this couple being able to live back in their hometown.
One of the great things is that Nichols doesn’t go down the usual tropes of a movie like this. We don’t see cops beating him up for no reason. No scene with his boss firing him from his job. We don’t see bricks thrown through windows (although as my girlfriend said when we were leaving, “What was with that brick that was put in his car? Was the window broken, or was the person just really polite about it?”). There’s one brief scene in a bar with one of his black friends giving him crap, but you start to wonder — why are more people not giving them a hard time? They were an interracial couple in the late ‘50s in Virginia.
Apparently, a cross was burned in the front lawn of Jeter’s mom, but the movie left this out. You can see that in the documentary “The Loving Story” from 2011, which begs the question — why would we see this? It’s twice as long (at just over two hours), and not nearly as interesting. The filmmaker that did that (Nancy Buirski) is credited here.
This story is a great one. It lead to a Supreme Court decision in 1967 — the Summer of Love (Loving) — which struck down anti-miscegenation laws.
Nichols brought his usual cinematographer, Adam Stone, who captured the south nicely.
There are also a few powerful scenes. One scene has them holding hands in the car, while driving into a new town. In another, Loving turns around on his porch, telling his lawyer, (miscast comedian Nick Kroll), to tell the judge, “I love my wife.”
Very powerful words. I just wish this stoic character would’ve shown some love and affection, to either his wife, or his kids.
The problem is that the movie is so restrained. Edgerton, half the time, looks like he smells something bad. His shoulders are slumped over, and he doesn’t say much. In fact, the couple’s lack of conversation was really frustrating. It takes away any chemistry they might have, and we really don’t see the love. We see the hardship of what they had to go through, but it feels like we’re watching simple people, who just aren’t that interesting.
Mildred Jeter is played by Ruth Negga, who has adorable eyes, but she’s also too quiet. She moves her head around and opens her eyes wide like a bird, whenever Loving walked into a room. It was…odd interactions between the two.
Perhaps this is all the way these real people acted, but when we see the sheriff’s (who are smartly understated in their racist ways), come to arrest them…it’s not the most powerful drama to have the family standing around without a single angry word of protest. The only time we got that was when the younger sister was mad her sister was running off to marry Loving.
It’s weird, because I love courtroom dramas, yet I always complain about how unrealistic they are. This movie didn’t have one, and now I’m complaining about that. Seriously, this movie needed some drama. Just as I said about the other movie opening this weekend (Arrival) — just not enough happens to make this a compelling story.
Perhaps one less brick laying scene of Loving, and a little more conversation, please.
Terrific story, boring movie.
2 stars out of 5.