Friday, December 02, 2016

OVP: Loving (2016)

Film: Loving (2016)
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon
Director: Jeff Nichols
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Actress-Ruth Negga)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars (I didn't like it, but it's too well-constructed to be a two-star film)

Biopics have never been my cup-of-tea (I wonder how many reviews I've started out with those exact words), but when I do go to biopics, I actually prefer them to be about figures that history has forgotten.  It makes things more entertaining-you get to know the backstory of a figure that, perhaps, you have heard of in a textbook or People Magazine, but don't really know how they came to be other than a chance brush with fame.  I always think of Joy Mangano and Joy, a film that was problematic, but about the best example of someone you should make a biopic about, since she's famous but not well-known outside of her specific avenue of fame.  This is also something that feels right for (very unrelated, except in this facet) Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple that went all the way to the Supreme Court to ensure that they would have the right to marry.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film doesn't entirely go into biopic cliche, starting with a "how we met" situation that stretches half of the film, but instead smartly moves straight into the relationship of Richard (Edgerton) and Mildred (Negga).  The film follows them as they are jailed for getting married in DC, and we watch in horror as they are essentially banned from the Commonwealth of Virginia because they got married, which is illegal at the time for interracial couples.  The movie follows them as they live in DC, eventually starting a legal battle headed by their lawyer Bernie Cohen (Kroll), that goes all the way to the Supreme Court, overruling all interracial marriage bans (a ruling that decades later would lead to gay marriage being legal across the country).

The film has a number of smart touches, particularly in the way it lets the story unfold.  We see occasional marital strife, but by-and-large we aren't saddled with a modern interpretation of a 1960's marriage.  We don't see, for example, Richard, a man of limited words and education, becoming suddenly eloquent or specific in why he doesn't want to fight like his wife does.  We see a scene late in the film where he breaks down in tears, realizing the pain this has inflicted on him, and it's devastating precisely because you suspect this is the first time Mildred's ever seen her manual laborer husband cry.  The film also never questions their love with prolonged separations or sleeping on the couch-we don't have to sit through a side question of "what if they can't hold it together?" which makes it that much more powerful-these are people that deserved to get married not just because it should be a right afforded everyone, but because they genuinely loved each other.

This care makes up for the fact that the film itself is kind of boring.  It has what I call a "case of the handsomes" where everything feels like it's working, but there's no spark.  I believed the main two actors as a couple, but Edgerton is so reliant upon his character's gruffness that I felt like he wasn't feeling select scenes, trying to rely entirely upon his facial expressions to influence the scenes.  The same could be said for Negga, an actress of intrigue, but I wasn't sold on her in the starring role-her motives are even harder to suss out, particularly as she starts to give into fame in a way her husband doesn't.  As these two are the central players, it's hard to love the movie, even if it made a number of the right decisions in terms of approaching the biopic.

Those are my (in the minority, based on Rotten Tomatoes) thoughts-what about yours?  Are you with me that Loving should be a great film, but for some reason never feels like one?  What do you think of Edgerton and Negga (and their Oscar chances)?  And who is someone you'd like to see a biopic of?  Share in the comments!

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