Oscar nominations and many other accolades are coming f’sure at the beautiful Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton’s loving couple in “Loving.” Jeff Nichols’ amazing film is one of the quietest, almost unassuming Oscar-seeking films I’ve ever seen. Nichols is definitely in the Kelly Reichardt wheelhouse of less is more. Much, much less. The film is almost without dramatic dialogue or large movie moments. The brilliant Nichols is taking pains to emphasize the ordinariness, the reality, almost the hum-drumness of his characters’ simple lives.
Except that Mildred and Bill Loving are anything but hum-drum. They’re historic. They are the first interracial couple to break the miscegenation laws that were on the books as the law of the land until they and the ACLU decided to contest them. Married in Washington, D.C. in 1958.because a white man and a black woman couldn’t get married in their home state of Virginia,( the Lovings hailed from the not-far-away, rural outskirts in Virginia).Racially mixed couples could not be married or live together in VA, so they had to settle on Washington, D.C. where it was Ok and legal, but Mildred didn’t like living in the city of D.C., and who could blame her?
She wanted her children to grow up in the countryside she knew and loved so well. Bill was a bricklayer. He was white and she was black, and that’s the only really unusual thing about this very usual couple.Their love for each other is unabashed, simple and direct, and lasting. And except for the racial difference,they would have gone along on a very straight-as-an-arrow road, until Southern society wouldn’t let them just be.
Mildred is drug out of bed in the middle of the night and jailed while pregnant. They are forced to leave town. And years later in Washington, D.C., where they are forced to re-locate to sympathetic relatives’ homes, Mildred decides to write a hand-written letter to Robert F. Kennedy as she watches the ’60s unfold on black and white television. A female relation says, “You better get you some civil rights,” and she does.
Kennedy forwards her letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, and thus their saga goes national and into the history books. The Lovings made history.
And newcomer Ruth Negga’s and Joel Edgerton’s performances are so perfect and so moving that they both will be nominated for the Oscars, even though “Loving” is as small and simple and unadorned as any film could be. Negga. wordless for most of the beginning of the film, says everything with her large, dark, sad eyes. She’s surprisingly an Irish actress and Joel Edgerton, who has an even harder job, the character of Bill is so taciturn, turns out to be Australian! I would never have known it! Their Southern American accents are impeccable. Their intensity riveting and their devotion divine. You can’t see one without the other they are so perfectly matched.
All credit to young director Jeff Nichols who also wrote the original screenplay and is bound to get his own first Oscar nomination, for his original, heart-rending script.I was lucky enough to spend a week or so in 2007 at the Newport Film Festival with Jeff Nichols and the star of his first film Michael Shannon. “Shotgun Stories” was such an impressive debut that I knew I just knew that Jeff and Michael were going to be big stars, as has come to pass.
Both were completely unknown at the time, and I remember asking Jeff since we got to hang out A LOT at this, at the time, small, underpopulated film festival. just what he wanted to do with his life, and he said, “I want to make films about where I’m from Arkansas. Nobody’s done that yet. It’s a completely new terrain.” And with “Loving” though it’s set in rural Virginia, he’s done just that.
He told me that Michael Shannon was going to become one of America’s most famous actors, and he has. And that he planned to use him in every film he made.
And he’s done just that, too. With this time Shannon playing a small role as a Life magazine photographer. Bravo to all of them! “Loving” is a magnificent achievement, and one of the best films of the year.