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It is hard to imagine an era when people were not allowed to be married because of the color of their skin or ethnicity. Director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Midnight Special) explores the journey of the Lovings and the landmark case they would represent in overturning these absurd laws in the US in the 1960’s. Richard Loving merely wanted to marry the woman he loved and never have intended to draw national attention to relationship his beloved Mildred. Regardless of their intentions, this young couple’s actions did lead to a significant change in the United States. Loving shows the many trials and tribulations they endured in fighting for the right to be married and have a family.
The first year of any marriage can be a time of adjustment, but the challenges faced by Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) exceeded most other couple’s experience. Falling in love and getting married in Virginia in the 1950’s was not easy for an interracial couple since it was against the law for them to be married. The Lovings still choose to tie the knot, traveling to where it was legal in nearby Washington D.C. Despite it being legal there, soon after crossing the border into their home state, the couple are arrested and spend time in jail. This leads to their eventual banishment from Virginia and forces them to leave behind the simple country life for the big city life of the nation’s capital. They adjust to life in the big city, but constantly yearning for home in Virginia.
During this changing time in America’s history, they eventually are able to gain the legal assistance they need that gives them hope of returning to their family and life. Through their willingness to stand up for their love for one another they become the center of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated state laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
Sometimes the love of a woman can make the simplest of men take the boldest decisions in their lives. This is what is portrayed in the life of Richard Loving. He loved Mildred and she loved her husband. If director Jeff Nichols was able to convey anything, it was the long-term conviction that the Lovings had for one another. Joel Edgerton provides the strong, silent and brooding nature of the bricklayer from small town America. He shows that a man of few words can still communicate a multitude of things through his actions. Partnered with the quiet and courageous nature of Ruth Negga’s (Warcraft, Peacher) interpretation of the sharecropper’s daughter, this had the potential to be an exceptional historical biopic.
Nichols was able to show their affection but managed to misplace the passion in their situation. As a director, he is known for understatement instead of the sensational, which does not complement this story. In trying to diffuse the sensational nature of this case by focusing on the Lovings simple life amongst the drama, Nichols inexplicably eliminates the emotion that must have been part of their lives. The couple’s tender hearts and conviction to one another was conveyed on screen, but it was challenging to the find the heart of the film.
Another area that Loving suffers from is ‘Civil Rights Movement’ fatigue. Showcasing these atrocities and ensuring that mankind does not go back to them is important. There is place for educating and entertaining the populace about this history. Hollywood has been mining stories from this era for the past few decades and there will be more in the future, but there has to be a fresh way of telling them. The challenge is finding something new to say.
The Loving’s ten-year saga is a fascinating analysis of America in the ’50’s and ’60’s, but all of it seems like a familiar journey for the audience. Between Jeff Nichols’ measured storytelling style and the scripts’ familiar content, Loving produces more yawns than the tears and cheers, which should be the response from those watching.