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Loving - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
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cinema_holic
Loving
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Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+



In February 2012, Time Magazine ran a feature on Richard and Mildred Loving with the heading "Richard and Mildred Loving: Reluctant Civil Rights Heroes." It's that reluctance to be considered heroes that is captured so well in the new film Loving, which rightly focuses on the individuals rather than the broader implications of their case.

It was their lives as individuals, after all, that pressed the case -- helped a great deal by another magazine, LIFE, in a 1966 feature called "The Crime of Being Married." The film recreates a very famous shot from that feature, in which the Loving couple is sitting on the couch, laughing as they watch television, Richard's head in Mildred's lap. Sometimes the simplest things can make all the difference.

And sometimes current events shape the way a film about events of historical significance resonates. Is Loving a film of cinematic brilliance, a major Oscar contender, a movie people will be talking about in twenty years? Nope, no, and nope. But is it essential viewing at this particular point in time? That would be an unequivocal yes.

Nor does Loving have any glaring or major flaws. It's about one of the most significant and important civil rights cases of the twentieth century -- and, as a gay man, I know the 2015 case legalizing my own marriage would never have been possible without it. But the story behind it is not one of immediate drama, which is the stuff most people go to the movies for. Instead, it's a story of tenacity and endurance. Writer-director Jeff Nichols immerses us into the lives of these two people who merely wanted to live their lives. They weren't out to cause a stir, but when they were arrested in their home state of Virginia for being an interracial couple, they called a lawyer.

And their legal journal didn't even begin immediately. They had to move to Washington, D.C., where they had gone to get their marriage license to begin with, or face prison time if they were caught in the state of Virginia together again. They had largely moved on with their lives by the time Mildred decided to write to then-Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, who passed the letter on to the ACLU. The ACLU saw this as an opportunity, and encouraged the Lovings to volunteer themselves as the example that could change the country.

And this is another point that cannot be understated: the history of landmark civil rights victories achieved with the help of the ACLU. Loving vs. Virginia is one such example, and illustrates how vital their organization continues to be today. (Maybe some think a movie review itself shouldn't be politicized, but I would counter that there are times when there is too much at stake not to politicize every single thing you're doing.)

These people spent the better part of a decade, through moves back and forth fro the city (D.C.) to the country and through three children, just asking for the right to live together in the home in which they grew up. There is all manner of oppression, and just because someone is not getting the shit kicked out of them does not mean they're not being oppressed. For a movie about a landmark civil rights case, Loving is strikingly lacking in violence. The Lovings still feared for their personal safety, of course, and still lived with the threat of violence -- a key point. It doesn't make much logical sense for the government to force people away from their loved ones, literally hoisting unhappiness upon them.

Having never seen live footage of the Lovings, there's no telling how "accurate" the performances are, but in terms of mere personal physicality, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are perfectly cast as the titular couple. They both also deliver carefully nuanced, restrained performances -- the essence of "reluctant heroes." Richard in particular resists the publicity every step of the way, right down to refusing to be present at oral arguments before the Supreme Court. In his mind, his presence is not necessary to convey a simple truth: "Tell them I love my wife."

We all know how this ended, but half a century after the fact, few of us know how it began and how it played out -- over a lot of years. And in Loving, we see the kinds of gains we are now at risk of having rolled back. It may be unlikely that miscegenation laws will be reinstated, but we still have an alarming number of people around with the clear desire to move things in that direction. This is a movie that humanizes the issue, a sobering reminder of what still needs protection -- which is to say, individual lives.

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton recreate the famous LIFE Magazine photo that helped the titular landmark civil rights case in LOVING.


Overall: B+
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