Love Trumps Hate: A 'Loving' Film Review
by Will Lindus
Sometimes, writing a film review is easy. You pour a cup of coffee, crack your knuckles (a disgusting habit, I know), and you hammer away at your keyboard for an hour. You come up with a witty headline, smugly point out an obscure reference only film buffs will get, hit submit after nailing the perfect final line, and call it a night. Sometimes, though, you find yourself stymied by factors outside of your control. Take, for instance, the film Loving by Jeff Nichols, which tells the true-life story of an interracial couple found guilty in a court of law in 1958 Virginia for the crime of being married.
You stare at your computer screen for endless minutes on end, mind racing. How do you take this amazing story, perfectly portrayed on screen, and even more perfectly fitting in context of the current political climate, and do it justice? How do you express in 750 words or less just how much this film and its overwhelming message of love and hope means to you during a week when the world has flipped upside down, when you and millions of members of a multitude of minority groups across America find themselves terrified of an uncertain future?
No matter what words I choose, I could not accurately and wholly express how important this film is to me, especially today as I write this. But, I suppose, I’ll try anyways.
The beauty of Loving is in the understated approach Jeff Nichols uses to tell the story. At its core, it is a tale of love triumphing against all odds as the Richard and Mildred Loving take their case before the Supreme Court. This type of film often leans towards the melodramatic, with blaring scores meant to swell our hearts as the underdog lawyers deliver moving speeches to attentive juries. Instead, Loving opts to forgo the most court room sequences, instead choosing to highlight the crucial decisions and tender moments of genuine affection shared by the Lovings at home. This works startling well, as Nichols’ deft and subtle hand traces his way through every frame of the film, crafting a painstaking and confident piece of art that embraces sincerity, that never feels manipulative or manufactured.
This approach can only be successful if helmed by lead actors who are capable of turning in engaging performances while practicing restraint. Joel Egerton and Ruth Negga more than deliver on this front; showcasing a genuine chemistry with one another that feels warm and worn and comfortable, like a cozy pair of slippers. In fitting with the film’s understated approach, the pair does not allow their performances to feel like a set of maudlin star cross’d lovers. When Egerton rests a weary hand on Negga’s shoulder after a long day, or as she casually strokes his head as the two cuddle up in front of the television, their relationship feels like it could actually exist in a way that makes the true-story aspect of this film all the more poignant.
Also of note is upstart ACLU lawyer Bernie Cohen, played by comedian Nick Kroll. While the majority of the films laughs originate with Kroll, the role is portrayed seriously and genuinely, a feat which raises Kroll’s stock as a legitimate film star. While he has stretched his acting talents in the past (as in 2014’s underappreciated Adult Beginners,) he is mostly known for playing loud, brash comedic roles. His judicious approach in Loving is both appreciated and refreshing.
Bottom Line: Quiet, soft films like this often leave ripples instead of waves, making a few ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year and maybe snagging a fruitless Oscar nomination before disappearing into obscurity. As I swap back over to my Facebook feed, I see fear and disillusionment. What better way to remind us that even in the face of terrifying odds, love, simple and true, can win? At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I think we need films like Loving right now, and as such, I highly recommend it to anyone that needs a booster shot of determination as we face an uncertain future.
Loving expands its limited theatrical run to Austin and other areas 11/11/2016.
5 out of 5 Bear Paws