Loving is as good as a drama can be, but for everyone who admires the director’s earlier films, it might be a disappointment.
Loving is Jeff Nichols’s second film to be released this year. The first was Midnight Special, a sci-fi drama about family and belief, which premiered at the Berlinale in February. It’s also the second time the director has worked with Joel Edgerton, who this time plays Richard Loving, a white bricklayer from Virginia who invited the wrath of the state when he married his beloved Mildred, a woman of African-American and Native American descent. Ruth Negga plays his wife and together the two actors turn in the finest, most understated performances of the festival so far. The Lovings, we realise soon, are people of very few words, and so they make every look, every gesture, every intonation count instead.
In order to be together though, the newly wed couple is forced to make a deal to leave their Virginia home and promise they won’t return for at least 25 years. Time passes as they retreat to Washington DC to raise their family, but Mildred struggles to fully adjust to life in the city and, in her despair, writes a letter to Bobby Kennedy explaining the circumstances and asking for help. What follows is the Lovings fight to return to Virginia as a free family. It’s a fight that eventually will go all the way to the federal Supreme Court, and one that changed history.
Loving is as good as a drama can be, but for everyone who admires the director’s earlier films, it might be a disappointment. It’s a film by Nichols rather than a ‘Jeff Nichols film’, the main difference being that in making the political personal, Loving simply lacks the strangeness and dark power of films like Shotgun Stories (2007) and Take Shelter (2011). What’s more, it seems that since flirting with Hollywood in Mud (2013), Nichols has gone off on a tangent and it’s not clear whether or not he too will find his way home again.