The climactic scene of Loving is divided between two locations. One is the Supreme Court, where the future of interracial marriage lies in the landmark case of Virginia vs Loving. The second location is a farm, where Mildred Loving, a black woman, watches her husband, Richard Loving, a white man, play with their two children in the yard. She gets a call from their lawyers. They won. Mildred nods, hangs up, and smiles at her husband. He nods, and goes back to playing with the kids.
And that’s all folks. They win. Interracial marriage is legal in the United States. The Loving family can continue their daily lives, just with less fear.
If that climax sounds less-than-exciting to you, keep in mind before you see Loving that that is how the whole movie plays. It is an unbelievably calm, restrained, and polite film. Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) never get angry with each other or their circumstances. They go through their entire ordeal with humility and quiet conviction. Director Jeff Nichols refuses to craft an Oscar drama. He creates one that reflects the nature of the Lovings themselves. Richard Loving states in the film, “Tell the judge I love my wife.” He doesn’t want to go to court. He doesn’t want to make a statement. He just loves his wife. Loving doesn’t make itself into a statement. It presents itself as just a slice of life, albeit with extraordinary implications.
There is a difference between restraint and boring though, and how Loving walks that line is still up for debate. I think one of the year’s best examples of restraint is this Fall’s Southside With You, about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first date. That was a film that could have easily gone for Oscar bait with huge speeches, big statements on politics and the state of America today, and unrealistically canny foreshadowing. Yet Southside With You chooses to serve its story rather than its makers.
So what does that make Loving? I think it depends. I personally don’t think this story is a good fit for a movie. It is certainly important, and everyone should know about the Lovings. But you could cover all the material given here with a podcast, a Wikipedia page read, or even the trailer for this film. There is very little meat here.
The lack of meat in the film is replaced with elements that may be very appealing to some. It’s an actor’s film through and through, with Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton giving Oscar-worthy performances. They don’t play particularly interesting people, but they play them with an admirable amount of naturalness.
Honestly though, there isn’t much else. The film has what we’ve come to expect- nice cinematography, a serving score, a feel of deep authenticity in its historical setting. But if you know the story, and don’t care to watch intense faces for two hours, Loving isn’t going to be your movie. Truthfully, it wasn’t mine. I appreciate the film for what it is, and for not falling into all the traps it could have. I just wished I had walked out of the theater, pumping my fist in the air, yelling “Yes! They did it!”
The film didn’t need to be cliched or loud to do that. It just needed to make sure the stakes were clear and to show the real injustices the Lovings (and couples like them) faced. But, when the worst punishment shown in the film is them being jailed for a few nights, I didn’t get the feeling of, “This is an unjust problem that needs to be solved right away.” I never felt anxious for them or their situation.
The film does a wonderful job of portraying who the Lovings were. But then it takes it a step too far and becomes the Lovings. It reminds me why not a lot of movies are made about introverts. It doesn’t matter how powerful those closeups of intense expressions are. It doesn’t matter how wonderful they are as role models, with Mildred Loving’s inner strength and determination and Richard Loving’s quiet conviction. Quiet people simply do not have the onscreen charisma we are used to to entertain us. And I say this all as an introvert. A movie about me would not be entertaining in the least.
So, do make movies about important people, introverted or not. But do not make an introverted movie if it doesn’t have more to say. Loving is sensitive and sweet, but isn’t able to transfer the love on screen to the audience.