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Monday, October 31, 2016

Love in a Time of Hatred: A Review of LOVING

It make sense that a film that highlights such a basic human right as love would be so simple in its presentation, so humble in its dialogue. That's exactly what writer/director Jeff Nichol's LOVING is: basic. But in the very best way. At a time of year when we're inundated with theatrical drama, big emotions, and popular Hollywood stars, this film comes as a much needed welcome in a sea of trying-too-hard films. 

To understand the basis of the film is to understand the setting from which its true story was inspired. It's June 1958 in Central Point, Virginia, four years after the Brown v. Board of Education case marked the unofficial start of the Civil Rights Movement, when a pregnant Mildred Jeter, 19, and her beloved Richard Loving, 25, decide to wed in Washington, D.C., where it is legal for an interracial couple to marry. Despite the tight bond they share with their families, anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia have forced the young couple to abandon their loved ones for a wedding nearly 100 miles away home in front of a justice of the peace and only Mildred's father as a witness. Soon after, they quietly return home, wedding band-clad, back to their humble lives and move into Mildred's family's home. It only takes the Sherriff's office six weeks to learn of their marriage, burst into their house, and arrest them in the middle of the night as they are sleeping. After spending one night in jail, Richard is released on bail, while Mildred must stay an additional four nights until "one of her own" posts her bail.

In October 1958, the Lovings are indicted for violating the Racial Integrity Act and, in lieu of serving a one-year prison sentence, they must leave the state of Virginia at once and not return together or at the same time for twenty-five years. And this is all because two people fell in love and got married.

Nichols illuminates the simplicity of their crime by placing the audience directly in the time period, complete with the modest jukebox tunes with banjos and swing melodies, dirt roadways, and two beautiful lead performances by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton. The fact that the Loving v. Virginia case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1967 and ultimately ended anti-miscegenation laws yet is hardly remembered as a key Civil Rights moment tells you a number of things--but particularly that the Lovings never saw themselves as heroes and shied away from publicity.

And that's the very thing that fuels LOVING. At its core, it's a love story that dares to exist during a time when it was neither respected nor acknowledged. Negga and Edgerton as Mildred and Richard illuminate their humility, peaceful perseverance, and traditional relationship that came to define their iconic LIFE Magazine photo shoot in 1966, and the 2011 HBO documentary, The Loving Story, which showed the real Lovings at their home. In keeping with the sentiment that exemplified the couple, LOVING portrays their deepest concerns and tender love for one another was mostly during pillow talk as they lay in the privacy of their own bedroom at night.

Nichols could have easily recreated climactic courtroom drama (the Lovings never even stepped foot in the Supreme Court, after all), dramatic racist attacks to signify the era in which the Lovings lived. But instead, he kept the story simple, highlighting the not-so-subtle micro-aggressions against the couple--from Richard's own mother to his coworkers, and law enforcement that went out of its way to keep a basic human right away from them.

Touching, earnest, and important, LOVING reminds us of the basic human rights we take for granted and how recent it was that they were not an option.

Rating: A (***** out of *****)

LOVING is in theaters November 4. 


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