Thursday, January 12, 2017

Loving Review

Oscar season is in full-force right now and my goal is to get caught up with all the reviews of the major awards contenders that I have seen, but not yet reviewed. "Loving" is another movie that I made sure to see when it came out, but waited until now to give you my review for various reasons, the main reason being I was super busy in December and had to carefully pick and choose which movies to review. I decided it would be fine to wait until the awards season is in full force to give some of my smaller reviews. I hope I haven't missed my window with "Loving," because while it is a major contender in many categories, with all the intense competition, it very well end up on the outside looking in with many of these categories, which in my opinion will be a shame. It's better than it getting completely ignored, but I think this is a beautiful little film that deserves a bit more attention right now than what it's actually getting. I think the reason for that may be because of certain stylistic choices it takes that stray from your typical Oscar-bait formula. Personally I ended up appreciating the movie more because of those choices, so let's dive right into this review and explain why.

If you haven't heard of "Loving," this is a historical drama based on the U.S. Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia. I won't tell you all of the details of that case if you don't already know because I don't want to spoil the outcome of this movie, but needless to say this was a very important court case when it comes to marriage and civil rights. The movie begins in the late 1950's when a man and a woman fall in love and get married. The happy couple are named Richard and Mildred Loving, hence the title of the movie "Loving" and the court case, Loving v. Virginia. These are two people that really wanted nothing to do with the rest of the world, the press or politics. They just wanted to get married and live a quiet life together with their family. That's all. Why was this such a big problem? Well, Richard was white and Mildred was black. That was a big no no in Virginia and in many other states. Why? I have no freaking clue. That's just how it was. Interracial marriage was against the law. We look back on it today and it's quite laughable. Why can't a man and woman who love each other get married? Especially couples like the Lovings who just wanted to live a quiet life. What harm were they doing?

You can see that all the pieces were in place for this movie to be a loud, formulaic civil rights movie. And if they played the right notes, they could easily pull it off and have it be a contender for best picture like "Selma" was a few years back. "Selma" was a very loud, preachy movie with some in-your-face performances that made you take a step back and really think about things. Quite frankly I have no problem with those types of movies when they are done right. I love "Selma." But "Loving" doesn't take that approach at all. Instead of being equivalent to a loud sermon given by an animated preacher in front of a congregation, it's more like a good friend of yours sneaking in through your back door, sitting at your kitchen table and very quietly telling a simple story. And many times in life it's those smaller moments that end up making the biggest influence in your life. Sometimes it's the next door neighbor that inspires you more than the main pastor from the Church you go to. Sometimes it's your younger sibling that really makes you think instead of your parent giving you long lecture. And that's not taking anything away from the pastor or the parent, but "Loving" is like the neighbor or the sibling and that's why I loved it so much.

A lot of credit for this has to go to director Jeff Nichols, who I'm not super familiar with. But to be fair, he's only directed four other films before this and all four of them were pretty low key releases. Of the four, I have not seen "Shotgun Stories," "Take Shelter" or "Midnight Special," but the one I have seen of his is "Mud," which is a fantastic film that I love and own from 2013 that I think is criminally overlooked and underrated. If you've not seen "Mud," come over to my place and we'll have a movie night. Or watch it on your own. But it's a good one. After seeing "Loving" and thinking it's even better than "Mud," I do have a desire to search out the other three and pay more attention to Jeff Nichols in the future. He could've played all the formulaic notes and it could've been a good movie, but the fact that he decided to go with the more subtle route with this film, really impressed me. The main focus was not on all the loud Civil Rights stuff. Despite being in that era as the movie spans from 1958 to 1967, the focus here is 100 percent on this couple and their relationship. The major events that everyone knows are either inferred because we've told the story a hundred times or is shown on a TV in the background rather than being front and center.

With the movie being focused 100 percent on this couple, the movie could probably be classified as more of a romantic drama with Civil Rights undertones. As such, the weight of the movie is placed entirely on the shoulders of Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, who both give Oscar-worthy performances. Looking at predictions, it appears that these two are both on the outside looking in due to some heavy competition, but when I look at the best performances from this year that have been equally as praised, these two performances are definitely on that level. The romantic chemistry between this couple is flat-out perfect and they are portrayed as extremely humble individuals that no one in their right mind would want to do any harm to. I especially loved Joel Edgerton in this movie. If it were up to me to rank the major performances from this year, I would put Joel Edgerton just barely behind Denzel Washington and Casey Affleck, while being just ahead of Andrew Garfield and Ryan Gosling. I haven't seen Viggo Mortensen from "Captain Fantastic," so I can't judge. But this is definitely a performance worthy of recognition and I hope that one of them can sneak in a nomination.

What I really liked most about this couple is how they honestly came across as two people that really didn't want the spotlight at all. Sometimes a person will say they don't want the spotlight, but their actions show otherwise. This is a couple that when they first were arrested and eventually released, instead of fighting the unfair arrest, they simply submitted and moved because they weren't interested in causing a fight. When the lawyers eventually discovered their case, most people in their situation would've jumped for joy at the potential opportunity that was given to them. But these two didn't even want to do it. There was a lot of persistence on the side of the lawyers to be able to get this done. Mildred was the one who was willing to do interviews and make this move forward, but she was reserved about it and Richard essentially hated it every time the press or the lawyers came around. And everyone was on his side. That just blew me away. And then there's several moments where Richard just breaks down and sobbingly tells Mildred that he loves her and that he could be a good husband. You can tell that this is honestly getting to him and it was a touching performance that had me close to tears as I was watching.

This movie has performed decently well for a movie of it's size. It's nearing $10 million at the domestic box office, which considering how small of a budget and how few theaters it's been in is fairly impressive. But at the same time, it's the type of movie that has the potential to fly under a lot of people's radars who are more casual film fans as opposed to people like me who seek out all of these films. So here I am doing my duty to spread the word for this film. I've done the digging to search it out, now you just need to find where it is and go give it a shot. This has one of the best on-screen romances that I've seen, at least from this year. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga do a phenomenal job of portraying these two people who wanted nothing more than to live a quiet life with each other, but do to some injustices in our country back in the day, weren't allowed to. The movie is subtle and quiet. Because of that, it ends up speaking extremely loud in my mind and is probably one of my personal favorite Civil Rights movies. Because both marriage and racial equality are still very much a hot topic today, this is also a movie that manages to be impressively relevant despite not making any connections in the movie to the present day. I'm going to give "Loving" a 9.5/10.

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