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Loving




Loving (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

12/08/16
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



Loving (PG-13)

A couple just wants to raise their children in the state they’ve lived in all their lives but Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage make that illegal in Loving, a look at the couple behind the Loving v. Virginia U.S. Supreme Court case.
The movie begins with Mildred (Ruth Negga) telling a delighted Richard (Joel Edgerton) that she’s pregnant. He buys an acre of land in the rural county where they live and shows Mildred where he’s going to build their house. He asks her to marry him and she says yes, happily rushing off to tell her sister, Garnet (Terri Abney). Mildred’s family seems to like Richard and Richard’s mother, Lola (Sharon Blackwood), the area midwife, seems to like Mildred.
But this is the late 1950s in Virginia and a state-sanctioned marriage between Richard, who is white, and Mildred, who is black, is against the law. They do it anyway, going to Washington, D.C., to get married, city-hall-style, and then bring their license back to Virginia, where Richard hangs it on the wall in the room he and Mildred share at her family’s house. 
That license means nothing when the local sheriff shows up in the middle of the night and drags Richard and pregnant, pajama-clad Mildred off to jail. Richard is bailed out in hours, Mildred a while later (though not to Richard; the sheriff makes it clear he won’t let her leave if it’s Richard who attempts to bail her out). The Lovings hire a lawyer, Frank Beazley (Bill Camp), who makes a deal wherein the Lovings plead guilty, get a suspended sentence and agree to leave Virginia. 
The movie does a good job of showing the unreasonableness of the requirement that they leave. Mildred and Richard, under the terms of their plea bargain, aren’t allowed to be in Virginia at the same time, even for a visit, so when Mildred wants to return so Lola can deliver their child, they have to essentially sneak back into the county. And somehow, a woman recovering from labor with her newborn and the husband caring for them are disturbing the peace enough to get the sheriff back out to arrest them. Frank gets the judge to let it slide but then tells them essentially that that was it, don’t call him again and don’t come back.
The Lovings stay in D.C., having more children and building a life. But Mildred longs for her children to grow up in the fresh air and big outdoors that she did and she longs for her family. After one son is injured while playing in the street, she packs them up and decides that, laws be damned, her children will grow up in the Virginia country. 
It is around this time that Mildred writes a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy and gets a response from Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), an ACLU lawyer from Virginia. Though not a man of great trial experience (he borrows a colleague’s Alexandra office to meet the Lovings), Cohen thinks their case is the perfect case to test the interracial marriage laws in front of the Supreme Court.
Richard, meanwhile, just wants to live his life in peace and seems worried, from the beginning, about what the legal fight could mean for his family.
Loving is actually a fairly simple story — two people want to get married and raise their children where they’d like — and, to its credit, it also tells the story simply. Loving mostly avoids the Big Issues and sticks to the Lovings, their lives, their relationship and their family. Instead of having the injustice of the anti-miscegenation laws explained to us, we can feel it by the way those laws shove this one family to make decisions it shouldn’t have to make. 
Nuanced, restrained acting — by Negga, Edgerton and surprisingly, even by Kroll (best known for big loud comedy) — really helps get the job done here. Nobody steps into the spotlight to talk about justice, to Sorkinize, I might call it, but that actually helps to convey what this case and its resolution mean all that much more. We see this slice of the civil rights fight from inside this couple’s relationship. 
Loving makes a lot of really smart choices — including beautiful shots of the county where the Lovings want to live, room to let the actors fill in their characters and a light touch with the movie’s historical context (keeping the story as personal as possible) — that result in a really lovely movie about one brave couple and the legal wrong they help put right. A
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements. Written and directed by Jeffrey Wright, Loving is two hours and three minutes long and distributed by Focus Features.
 





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