Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Martin Csokas, Nick Kroll, Will Dalton, Michael Shannon
Running time: 123 mins
Release date: February 3rd
The great Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation fame once said “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing”. It seems Jeff Nichols didn’t get the memo when he decided to make two movies in the span of a year, with Loving having had its premiere three months after that of his previous film Midnight Special (the two were released here less than a year apart). The result is two films that had potential for greatness but instead feel like missed opportunities. This is especially disappointing in the case of Loving, a story that feels so relevant right now it’s a shame that it makes for a somewhat lifeless movie.
Loving is the tale of the fortuitously-named Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple who enter into an interracial marriage at a time in America where such a thing was not only frowned upon but outlawed. With a local sheriff pursuing their arrest with the emotionless determination of a T-1000, they struggle to stay together in a world that constantly threatens to pull them apart. They’re simple folk with a simple desire, which is an admirable and necessary trait to portray in a world that, even today, struggles to define the idea of love and those between whom it is “allowed” to exist. Unfortunately for the dramatic narrative of the film, the protagonists’ simplicity often doesn’t make for engaging watching.
There is something odd but fair about seeing a film where its leads, played inarguably well by non-Americans, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, are almost passengers in their own story. Not everyone is a person to make grand speeches, take fights to the highest offices and lead rally cries for change. Some people recognise that change would improve their life but are happy to let other people be the ones that take the message and run with it. In this instance those other people are incongruously goofy lawyers who want to make a name for themselves by helping the Lovings out. When they join the story, it essentially splits the film between the legal team cracking the case and the Lovings’ life as they sit around and await news on how it’s going. There are no big, cathartic moments of emotion or grandeur, there is very little melodrama, but unfortunately there’s just not that much of anything else to grasp onto as an audience either.
While Midnight Special flirted with the grounded sci-fi aesthetic that Nichols pulled off so well with Take Shelter, Loving echoes the dusty Americana of Mud without the intrigue and heart that made that movie so spellbinding. In the end, a story about plain people trying to live a plain life makes for something of a plain movie. It flirts with greatness, and we know Nichols is capable of it, but like Midnight Special it just never hits the mark the way you want it to. Even though his artistry is becoming less distinct, Loving shows that Jeff Nichols clearly has good stories to bring to the world. Hopefully he will allow more time to give his next film the love that it needs.