In limited release this past weekend, Loving, the newest film from Jeff Nichols, director of Mud and Midnight Special, explores the Supreme Court case that made interracial marriage legal in the 60’s. Since his debut, Nichols’s films have stunned audiences with the way in which they blend the normal world with a pinch of the fantastical. With Loving, Nichols is forced outside of his comfort zone and stripped of any fantastical elements as he attempts to tell a real story that happened to real people. Yet, even though Nichols steps into uncharted territory, his tension filled style of storytelling is still visible and able to benefit the story, but ultimately it is not enough to hide the film’s story issues.
Since his debut film Take Shelter, Nichols has been very effective at using visual storytelling to create suspenseful sequences that not only have audiences gripping the edge of their seats, but also recounting them months after they see the film. Initially, one may be fearful that Nichols could not emulate these sequences as easily in Loving a film about a couple’s relationship, compared to Midnight Special where the military is chasing a kid with superpowers, but Nichols easily surmounts this challenge. Throughout the entirety of the film, the two lead characters, Richard and Mildred are ether hiding or running from those that do no approve of their marriage. In most cases, many may argue that these chasing sequences have been emulated time and time again and as a result would not be as tension filled as Nichols would prefer, however that is not the case in Loving. Instead of mindlessly cutting together shots that are only a few frames long like most Hollywood chase scenes do, Nichols instead lingers on one character’s perspective for the duration of the sequence, this way the audience is left in the dark as to what is going on and is able to feel the same fear as the characters in the film. Unfortunately, while these sequences early on in the film help keep viewers engaged, by the midpoint of the film the audience starts to realize these sequences serve only as entertainment and did not affect the plot. As a result, as the film reaches its third act the stakes are not high enough for the climax to have any weight.
When looking back at Loving, there are several moments that standout as good storytelling, however as a whole the story feels very unsatisfying. The overall narrative of the film takes place over the course of five years and during that period the characters in the film do not undergo any noticeable transformation. While one could make the argument that this is representative of the film’s theme of Richard and Mildred did not let the legality of their marriage effect them, one would have a hard time believing that being the subject of a Supreme Court case would not change someone. In addition, the actual love that exists between the film’s two main characters is not felt which is quite damaging considering the story rests on their relationship. While both characters proclaim that they care for one another, the film does not attempt to show why that is true and instead relies on the audience’s trust in the characters. As mentioned earlier in the article, the actual climax of the film is not all that impactful. Throughout the course of the film the main story is about the injustice the main characters experience by the hand of the courts and how the Supreme Court can fix this. However, once the case finally gets to the Supreme Court, it is brushed over in a matter of minutes and does not provide any conflict as the courts seemingly rule in their favor with ease.
Looking back on the film, my memory of Loving is already fleeting. The three or four intense sequences that exemplify Nichols style were great to experience in theater, but their lasting impressions are set to expire soon. Largely the story suffers from not going anywhere in terms of plot and characters. For a story about race relations in the 50’s and 60’s it is nearly devoid of any violence or extremities and instead serves as a glimpse into the mundane. Quite truthfully, Loving is a film that you could skip without feeling any real loss, unless you are a fan of Jeff Nichols. As a result, Celluloid Cinema awards Loving 1 out of 5 Reels.
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