Time Out says
Jeff Nichols's story of a real-life couple whose marriage defied the law is sensitive if too restrained.
Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga play Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple and unwitting heroes of the 1960s civil rights movement in this sensible, compassionate but frustratingly simple drama from writer-director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special). “I’m pregnant,” are the film’s first words, spoken by Mildred to Richard, before they’re married. His response? Silence, then a beat or two. “That’s good,” he says with a smile.
It’s the kind of small dramatic moment that this calm, quiet film is built on, and it allows for tender, restrained performances from Edgerton and Negga. Their characters react to the news by traveling from their native Virginia, where interracial marriage was still outlawed in 1958, and getting hitched in Washington, D.C. From there, though, they experience arrest, trial, forced exile across state lines, kids and, finally, a return to Virginia and their case being heard before the Supreme Court. But all the time, they’d much rather be doing what most of us would: raising a family, building a household, working, enjoying each other’s company—all the stuff of a loving marriage.
Loving is a drama of reluctant protagonists, and Nichols refuses to turn them into something they weren’t. It’s both the film’s chief strength and its main limitation. While so cautiously avoiding melodrama and other histrionics, Nichols also sidesteps some crucial questions. What did years of legal oppression and uncertainty do to the Lovings’ relationship? What was the effect on their family, their friends and their kids? We get only hints of answers.
Inevitably, Nichols can’t entirely avoid the public face of this injustice, and later scenes with lawyers and the media feel especially perfunctory (Michael Shannon, helping out his old Take Shelter director, has a cameo as a Life photographer). The film is at its best when we’re alone with Mildred and Richard, their lack of words often speaking volumes. Edgerton’s performance is an almost-silent portrayal of someone who hopes the worst part of the world will disappear by ignoring it. But as an audience, we know it’s there, calling out for a more thorough address.
Cast and crew