by Kris DiNardiLoving is based on Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving’s nine-year legal battle with the state of Virginia in the 1960’s over the legitimacy of their interracial marriage. After spending a few years in exile in Washington D.C. in order to escape Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws, the Lovings decided to secretly return to the Virginian countryside to raise their children, while leaving their case in the hands of Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) to fight through the legal system.
Although it is clear that the Lovings won their case, the film maintains suspense, enthralling the viewer in the ups and downs of the couple’s fight to love. Thematically, the film hits the heartstrings. The law’s arbitrariness takes more and more of an emotional toll as it degrades the Lovings’ compassion for one another. At the beginning, the Loving’s status as a couple is identified as impure, but this intensifies into hate as the legitimacy of their children is questioned. Edgerton and Negga spearhead this emotional potency.
The problem with Loving is that it is too “loving.” While the film avoids the standard court case film trope of being overly dramatic, it seems to be bereft of action or movement, holding an inordinate amount of restraint. This extreme understatement makes the narrative advancement feel sluggish. Other films about civil rights are usually loud and full of action-based conflict, but Loving shies away from this, relying on the sentimental performances. This decision signals a change of pace, but by not heavily relying on this trope, the film comes off as too removed from the action and protests of the Civil Rights period — the Lovings do not seem to realize the implications of the case as being a landmark decision for other interracial couples.
Character-wise, the central couple is often devoid of personality. Richard Loving and Nick Kroll’s Bernie Cohen are some of the more multidimensional characters. Richard, a hard-working construction worker, has a tough exterior and tries to brush off his emotions. However, when the law intervenes in his love of Mildred, an emotional fire is struck within, causing him to do anything to protect his family. With Bernie Cohen, Kroll portrays him as an opportunist ACLU lawyer looking for the case of his career. Although he is cocky at first, Kroll’s character evolves into a dedicated ally for the Lovings.
On the other hand, Mildred is woefully underdeveloped. While Richard is sometimes stubborn and often refuses to back down, Mildred is mostly passive. Even when she’s frustrated about living in an urban area instead of the countryside, this frustration is subtle. As the law continues to disrupt her family life, Mildred’s frustration somehow doesn’t grow or expand, remaining stagnant throughout. Even at the end of the film, after receiving a phone call from Bernie celebrating in Washington D.C. over their win, Mildred barely reacts to the good news. As a character, Mildred doesn’t have a flaw. She struggles to live within the confines of the law, but the audience doesn’t see another side to her. Mildred is cast in too much of a subdued, good light, causing her to be unrealistic. This becomes clear when compared to her stubborn husband.
Additionally, the film falters in its slow pacing. It seems like an eternity before the story reaches the famous court case. The plot’s pacing is intentional, according to Nichols — apparently meant to give the film an intimate feeling. While Nichols achieves this intimacy through the more raw moments between Richard and Mildred, the lack of progression makes the film hard to watch.
In terms of visuals, Nichols beautifully captures the tense scenes of the Lovings’ struggle with long takes and close-ups. Nichols also includes many long scenic takes to focus on the surrounding environment. Of course, the inclusion of these long takes causes the film’s progression to slow down even more, lengthening the film’s runtime.
Despite all of this, Loving is still very relevant today. Less than 50 years after the Lovings’ Supreme Court win, racism is still prevalent within the country. The film illustrates this discrimination and racism on a smaller, more personal scale, as the audience roots for the Lovings to succeed — to continue to love. It might be a bit slow and unrealistic at times, but Loving certainly makes up for it with its tenderly portrayed narrative.
3 out of 5 stars