Jeff Nichols’ latest film opens with a young couple sitting on a porch at dusk. The woman nervously whispers that she’s pregnant, unsure how her lover will react. To her relief, it comes as good news. We’ve seen hushed, life-altering moments like this on screen a hundred times before. What makes Loving both unique and especially poignant is that the woman is black, the man is white, and it’s 1958 in Virginia. Their troubles are just beginning.
Based on the heartbreaking but ultimately inspiring true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, Nichols’ marriage-equality drama is beautifully observed and quietly restrained. Maybe a bit too restrained. Joel Edgerton (with a cornstalk-colored buzz cut and soft-spoken decency) and Ruth Negga (whose sad, sleepy-lidded eyes belie a fiery inner resolve) are superb as the besotted couple banished from their home state and ripped from their relatives to avoid being jailed. And Nick Kroll shows unexpected range as the ACLU lawyer who takes their case to the Supreme Court, where in 1967 the Lovings won their — and our — right to marry regardless of race.
But Nichols (the whiz behind Take Shelter and Midnight Special) never gets beneath the surface of the Lovings’ relationship. What was their first date like? What drew them to each other? They exist more as symbols than three-dimensional characters. Their story is undeniably powerful, but their inner lives are a bit of a mystery. B