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You can almost hear the people in the marketing meeting breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to titling the new film, the true story of a couple from different races who got married and were arrested for it.
“Oh, my god”, says one. “It’s about this couple who love each other against all odds. And their real names are, wait for it…Loving. It’s like this stuff writes itself.”
Social problem movies, especially those based upon true events, are not my favorite. Films like Gentlemen’s Agreement and Judgment at Nuremberg are often shallow, when they’re not being preachy and on the nose and told with little imagination. And the message sometimes seems a little warped (is the theme of Gentlemen’s Agreement that Jews should not be persecuted, or that people should not pick on Jews because they might be gentiles in disguise).
But there are certainly exceptions to the rule and there are filmmakers who get it right. Occasionally a To Kill a Mockingbird and I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang sneaks in. It might be that here, as in the works of Charles Dickens, the focus is on character and the writers let the social message play itself out as a result.
Loving, the new film from writer/director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter), definitely falls into the latter category. It’s a deeply moving story about a couple who deeply love one another, but their love is deeply forbidden.
In June of 1958, Richard Loving (white) and Mildred Jeter (black and Native American) traveled to Washington, D.C., to get married since it was illegal in their own state of Virginia. Not long after their return, they are arrested and forced to leave the state to live. But in the end, after the ACLU takes their case all the way up to the Supreme Court, they are allowed to live their lives where they see fit as miscegenation laws are declared unconstitutional.
Richard is played by Joel Edgerton and Mildred by Ruth Negga (this being a quintessential American story, the filmmaker continues with the traditional approach of casting non-American actors in the roles). The two are magnificent, playing their roles with laser like intensity, inhabiting the characters as if they were the people themselves. It’s an amazing pair of performances, haunting and moving in their reality.
There is very little preaching in the film (the arguments before the Supreme Court aren’t even dramatized). In fact, it often feels as if there is very little dialog (though there is plenty when all is said and done). The Lovings were particularly private people, happy to live quietly among their close family and friends, far from the maddening crowd, eventually living out in the middle of nowhere with no one around for miles.
Richard is especially private, keeping to himself, speaking with as few words as possible. Edgerton plays him as a character always looking inward, avoiding eye contact, rarely sharing what he is feeling. Negga plays Mildred with a lovely grace and calmness.
Nichols lets the story unfold as it wants, never pushing the emotion or telegraphing a message. There are a couple of marvelous scenes where Richard loosens up and laughs, once at a story told by a Life photographer visiting them for an assignment, and then a transcendental one where the couple watch an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, laughing uncontrollably, Richard laying his head down on Mildred’s lap.
There is almost no Hollywood-like directorial flourishes here, except for one odd moment when Nichols cuts between a near accident at Richard’s work and his son involved in a traffic accident. It stands out because it is so unlike the rest of the film and doesn’t seem to serve any purpose.
But overall, Loving is a lovely film.
With Michael Shannon as the Life photographer (his fifth film with Nichols).
As I understand it, Sang-soo Hong is South Korea’s Woody Allen because his films, often comedies, focus on relationships (for more of a parallel, check his IMDB page where his next film is simply the Untitled Hong Sang-soo project-can’t get more Allenish than that). I recently saw my first Hong film, and I can’t really disagree with that assessment. The movie, Yourself and Yours, is a rather charming, if not a somewhat odd, bit of a rom com that at times feels like something the director of Annie Hall might come up with himself.
The basic premise revolves around a young woman who, whenever she runs into someone who knows her, always pretends not to know the person, claiming to be someone else, even her own twin sister. Laughs ensue.
As I said, there is something rather charming about it all. One wants to like it. And for much of the time I did.
But when the film was over, I felt a bit unsatisfied, as if I was missing an important bit of information.
At the same time, I’m fully prepared to admit it was me and not the film. At some point the movie and I didn’t quite click the way we needed to and I ended up trying to figure out the film rather than enjoying it.
With Ju-hyuk Kim as the young man bewildered by his supposed girlfriend’s behavior, and You-young Lee as the mysterious lady in question.