As the world continues to scream that Black Lives Matter, we are reminded of a different aspect in the pursuit of civil rights. One dealing with marriage but not between two men, women, or those who don’t follow the gender binary. But marriage between someone white and someone who is not.
Review (with Spoilers)
Though I try to make a habit of not doing so, I was watching behind the scenes clips, interviews, and was just really trying to get myself hyped for this. Not because I thought it would be a bad movie, but because there was this repeated note that the movie was not your usual Hollywood drama. It wasn’t going to have your usual tricks but rather be subtle, true to the shy nature of the people being revived. Something I must admit is a bit foreign to my viewing habits since I’m used to dramatics ranging from fights and all types of violence to Viola Davis type monologues where there is snot, tears, and elevated voices. All of which is absent but with reading Taraji P. Henson’s book Around The Way Girl, what I’m trying to learn is to look beyond the tricks as a source of recognizing talent and a quality performance.
Characters & Story
Mildred (Ruth Negga)
Love is hard to come by, much less the kind Richard Loving provides. Not only does he work hard, but he can afford a stay at home wife. Who doesn’t like that idea? Having a hard working husband go to work as you take care of the kids and live almost that dream life. Well, in the state of Virginia that dream was outlawed. Colored people and white folk weren’t supposed to mix. If you were just messing around some may turn a blind eye but marriage? The sanctity of marriage wasn’t for two races to mix, that is why God placed Red, White, Yellow, Black and Brown on different continents.
But the heart is blind and doesn’t follow the rules of God. Man was given free will after all. So after being arrested so came a local court, then the state’s supreme court, and then the nation’s supreme court. All the while Mildred was just fighting to give her kids the life she thought was best for them. Not only one in Virginia, where they could rip, run, and play but also a life where they would have their mother and father together and no one could legally question it. That’s all she wanted. That was the dream which became reality.
Richard (Joel Edgerton)
Richard was just a country boy who grew up around negroes. Parents worked around and with them, he does when he works on race cars, so it would only come naturally he would meet a nice girl in such an environment and want to settle down. Problem is, she ain’t white. Add onto their issues, the real problem is that in the state of Virginia it is illegal and Richard is a simple man. He isn’t about fighting the system and all that. He just loves his wife, loves racing cars with friends in Virginia and drinking. Heck, put a camera on his face and he turns as shy as a 4-year-old behind his mother’s dress.
But, this woman, even if the situation makes him uncomfortable he’ll do what he has to. Be it deal with the threat of an arrest, have his picture taken or be filmed. Just as long as he can consistently come home to her.
An Ode to Subtle
Let me admit, if I was watching this on demand it would take me forever and a day to finish it. As noted in the intro, there aren’t any of those usual moments in which there is some drawn out speech which are used for nomination clips, there isn’t jaw-dropping violence, and while the marriage of Richard and Mildred is the focus, there isn’t much awe-inspiring about it. They are married, they love each other, the got kids. It doesn’t seem like a boring relationship, but it is one in which they are comfortable enough with what they got that grand gestures seem unaffordable and unnecessary.
With that said, without the tricks you have to notice the little things. You have to notice the way she looks at him and he at her. You have to notice how their relationship dynamic is. She is the talker of the two, she gets the ball rolling for them meeting with Mr. Cohen (Nick Kroll) and is the one speaking with the media. Why? Because she knows her husband isn’t into that. She knows that he can’t do everything so this is her way of contributing. He may not say he would prefer to live in Virginia, he just wants to be with her, yet there is something in her actions and the way she does things which makes it seem she can pick up on her husband’s feelings and know. Yet, as much as she speaks to the media and starts things with the lawyer, she draws the line sometimes and says she has to ask her husband. Not because she is scared or hesitant, but because she doesn’t want to make him uncomfortable, push his boundaries past what he is willing to handle, and that’s love. It may not be glamorous or what many movies rely on, but that is true genuine love. Being able to compliment your partner in terms of what they can’t, won’t, aren’t willing, or uncomfortable to do, and know when to do it yourself, push them, or sometimes just leave the matter alone.
Switching to the performance of Richard, as noted he is played as someone simple. A term which often has negative connotations since “simple” seems like a euphemism for slow or retarded to some. However, in my case, I’m using at to show that he isn’t a man who wants or demands much. All he wants to do is earn a living, take care of his wife and kids, and be able to enjoy his free time. Be it fixing cars or with his family. He isn’t trying to be someone’s boss, own or build an empire, he just wants the simple things in life.
Yet, that isn’t what is worth praising. What is worth praising is that Edgerton makes Richard more than simple. There is a restraint there, even when he feels uncomfortable or insulted. There isn’t any lashing out or grand speeches, he just preservers and you can kind of see that weighing on him. In one scene he comes home after drinking and being told he is experiencing the issues Black men face. With that, you see this man who is starting to feel helpless in terms of protecting his family and while they often say drinking brings out the worse in people, again I have a different sense of it.
In this case, drinking brings out the worse in terms of his perception of worse. That is, him being what he never wanted to be or be seen as. He doesn’t want to be someone in and out of jail, he doesn’t want cops snooping around his home and waking him up in the middle of the night, and he can’t protect his family from the possibility of that. Well, not in a way which will keep them happy and at the end of the day, that is what he wants. And mind you, when he is drunk, he isn’t some loud and boisterous drunk as I pulled these feelings from him. He is quiet, drowning a bit in his sorrow, and Mildred is trying to console him.
Information on Living Family and Family History
This is such a minor issue. One thing I found a bit “meh” was how meek, even with a film lacking dramatics, the supporting cast was. A person could argue that the story wasn’t about them and they were there to just add flavor to Richard and Mildred, but I find that hard to accept. Family to me is supposed to help explain why people are the way they are and we don’t really get that with Richard or Mildred’s family.
Well, maybe Richard’s. Through his mom, we see how her tolerance of people of color evolved into Richard’s acceptance. Yet, there comes the question of where is his dad? Especially as there is talk of maybe his family working with negroes. Leading you to wonder how his dad felt about working with them and also so comes into play what is his mother doing to pay bills? We see she is a midwife but is that her soul source of income or is Richard the type of son who is not only taking care of his wife and kids but supplementing his mother’s income too? Especially since his dad, due to abandonment or death, isn’t around.
Then with Mildred, it is understood her family is either sharecroppers or tenant farmers. However, all we get to see is her relationship with her sister. Outside of that, it is established she is a country girl through being unable to sleep when they move to the city, and thinking her kids need space and grass to run through, but it isn’t clear if that comes from how she was raised or just how she was as a kid.
Perhaps making the real issue here is that the space between what you think matters in terms of getting to know the characters vs. what is needed for the main plot. For, just to throw one more thing in there, we aren’t even told why Richard fell for Mildred nor how, in those times, she was convinced to be with a white man knowing all the dangers of it. Another factor unexplored yet, to some, perhaps unnecessary as this whole thing was about how two simple people found their marriage on trial in the supreme court.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing)
Is this entertaining or educational? Not really. As noted, with a two hour run time it will probably be hard to sit through unless your interest in the story of the Lovings’ or your love for the actors is devout. Yet, what makes this worth seeing is it challenges you. I think, as noted, there is such a reliance on tricks that it makes it so subtle performances become a bore and feel lifeless. Yet, with that, you lose what it means to act. Not everything is about grandstanding and dramatic monologues. Sometimes acting is just looking at a person, or the audience, a certain way and feeling everything they are holding back or trying to say.
Something I think Loving does well for while it does sort of lack supporting characters in strong roles, when it comes to Negga and Edgerton you are reminded there is more than one way to act in movies such as this. You don’t always have to perform like you are in a theatrical production and make everything bigger than it is. No. Sometimes the least said tells the most.