I thought I knew what Loving would be before I walked in. Everything I knew about this movie screamed Oscar Bait. From the big, sweeping, music of the trailer, to its place in the long history of titling a project with the aggressively inspirational name of its lead character, I was ready to have my emotions manipulated while being told a Very Important Story, and then to forget about it the moment it was over. That’s the tradition of Oscar season biopics, and this looked to fit that bill.
I was so wrong.
I have to admit, shamefully, that I was ignorant of the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which ruled miscegenation laws of the time to be unconstitutional. The Lovings (perfectly, quietly played by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton who can apparently really act— who knew?) were married in Washington D.C. but arrested for living together in Virginia. They trade jail time for exile, being forced to leave the state, their homes, and their families, for 25 years. The movie spans nearly a decade as the two are forced to build their family tree impossibly far from their roots.
This is the kind of prestige movie Oscar dreams are made of. But what Jeff Nichols ends up doing is something remarkable, and it’s exactly what he did with Midnight Special. He takes something big, something blockbuster-worthy, and he makes the most quiet, personal, intimate movie of the year.
One of the most striking things about Loving is how quiet it is. There is little dialogue, yes, but more than that, there is a softness laid over this movie like a blanket, like thick, warm Southern air itself. There is a sadness that pervades throughout, but there is also comfort. Nothing about this movie feels the need to be in your face. Rather, it lets you in, holds you, and calls you family.
The movie of this story should not do justice to the Lovings— not in the way we are normally presented these big, historic tales. I am 100% not equipped to describe exactly where Jeff Nichols’ magic comes from, or pinpoint what makes his movies so intimate. But while watching Loving, all I can say is that I was highly aware of what this story would look like in the hands of another filmmaker, and that you’re aware that that story is happening just outside of this movie. But we’re not rioting in the streets; we are there with the Lovings, in their home, their life. They’re not leading the charge in a battle to change history (that role is filled by Nick Kroll as their ACLU attorney in a small bit of third act levity). We, the audience, see dark looks from passersby and shop clerks, but no one even mentions race aloud for the first 30 minutes of the movie. This movie isn’t about a Struggle with a capital S. It’s about a personal struggle, a life, a family. It’s about, quite simply, love.
This may be the key to tackling the genre of “based on true events.” To often, we’re left wanting more— or, more often, less from these movies. Were you left satisfied by the recent biopics of Dalton Trumbo or Alan Turing? Or did you feel consistently removed from the stories because they tried to tackle too much, therefore missing the intimate essence of what made these men great? Nichols, here, does not miss the importance of this history lesson. But outside of Hamilton, I can’t think of any piece of art that so perfectly captures the significance of the time and also paints a beautiful, personal portrait of its players.
It’s also impossible to overlook the depressingly fortuitous timing of this movie. Who doesn’t need a little healing through loving right now? The film is in limited release right now, but as soon as it comes to a theater or VOD near you, I can’t recommend enough stuffing your pockets full of tissues and letting this beautiful movie wash over you.