Hey! A pretty accurate PG-13! But now I wonder, if Disney released it, would it get a hard PG? The world is topsy-turvey and someone's gotta do something about it!
DIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols
My wife is out of town for the week, so my goal is to watch a movie a day. Oh, what a privileged life I lead. I can't guarantee a review a day (although I would be genuinely proud of myself if I pulled it off), mainly because I'm collecting a stack of tests today and work comes first. But so far I'm going strong. I have a little backlog of reviews to get through, so let's start with something that was on my Netflix DVD queue because of the Academy Awards.
The only reason that I even heard of this movie considering that being a parent of two is that Ruth Negga was up for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Seeing the clips and the trailer, I was floored that this movie wasn't up for Best Picture. I mean, it looks all Best-Picturey. The color palette alone! It's all warm muted sunsets. How does that not get a Best Picture nom? I mean, it worked for Hell or High Water! (boom) Now that I've seen the movie, I kind of get it. I mean, I'm still surprised and all that, but the movie isn't perfect. The movie IS really good, but it is far from perfect. On top of that, I find it interesting that Ruth Negga was up for Best Actress. She does a solid job in this movie as does Joel Edgerton, but both of the characters are fairly quiet and reserved. They seem to be passengers in their own crisis. Both Richard and Mildred seem to be criminally introverted, which makes it hard to really see what their choices are in terms of storytelling. Many of Negga and Edgerton's scenes involve either approving or disapproving of the ACLU's choices to help them. Their primary accomplishment is muted reaction. The things that happen to them are horrible and should be condemned, but considering that these are reserved people dealing with horrors in a reserved way, the performances are all based around reactions that never really get out of control. I remember watching the clip that they played for Negga at the Academy Awards and thought, "Oh, they are showcasing the range by picking a reserved moment." Nope. That's her the whole movie. Very chill. It serves the movie, but the performance isn't much to really talk about. Both of these actors are solid, but I don't think Loving showcases that very well.
With Jeff Nichols as both director and screenwriter, the weaknesses of this movie are on his shoulders. It is based on a true story and the story itself is pretty riveting. The strengths are in the truth to begin with, so I have a hard time really handing Nichols too much credit outside of pursuing this thread to its final result. If I must give him credit, the movie is beautifully shot. It is absolutely gorgeous. But there are some real slip ups when it comes to conveying the nightmares that the couple are going through. The story of Loving v. the State of Virginia is something I'm now very interested in and the consequences of the case. But the problem is that many of the moments that really make me sympathize are told, but not seen. Mildred hates the city, but I only know that because of things that are said. Washington seems like a fairly wonderful place through the lens of film. It actually seems like a paradise. But this is contrasted with the line that Mildred says, "They are growing so fast and it is like they are in a cage." When we talk about juxtaposition, it is contrasted with boys laughing and playing inside. The story really is about how exile affects the way we see the world and the value of home. That idea is explicitly stated, but is contradicted in the way that the movie is filmed. Perhaps Nichols was trying to grasp reality and the nature of depression, but none of that is conveyed in the film. If anything, I kind of saw the movie as a mother trying to get back home despite the fact that the kids love their home. There is one scene that really validates what Nichols is trying to accomplish. Without giving too many details, one of the children is seriously injured in the city. Perhaps the use of editing might make this scene a homerun, it is tense. But then I thought of how the city and the country both have their dangers. In fact, considering the Lovings' situation, the city seemed safer.
What the Lovings did was so important and so vital to the Civil Rights Movement that I can't understand how the movie really failed to have me sympathize with them at every moment. There was a movie a couple of years ago about people trapped on Everest during a snowstorm. The trailer showed climbers Skyping with their families and saying that they had to do this. All I could see were people being selfish and putting their families last. I, unfortunately, had moments like this in the film. When the Lovings return Virginia for the first time, all I could think was how they were risking the life of their child for something that could be rectified in a dozen of other and safer ways. I get it. That's not the point. It was meant to show their courage and standing up for what was right. But Nichols writes the characters not as people standing on the right side of morality, but rather as people who want what they want and they are going to take it. The same thing comes from when ACLU lawyer Bernie Cohen, oddly played by Nick Kroll, tells them to get arrested. They share the reaction that I had, but then go back on that idea. This is a family with kids who are going back because they like where they lived. Again, there is a moral core to this movie and they are in the right, but the movie really fails to portray that motivation. I suppose that is probably closer to what the real Lovings believed and that truly is how reality works, but I could help but feel frustrated for all of the collateral damage that didn't have the same priorities that the parents did.
And that's what weirds me out. I supported everything that the Lovings deserved. They won and that's what is important in the end. They have suffered a great injustice, an injustice that needed to be fought and crushed. But they also tried to compensate themselves on the risk of others. As a parent, my heart screamed out for those children who risked losing their parents. If their parents were fighting for the greater good, I could get behind it. But they weren't. The movie paints them as a couple who just wants to live in Virginia and that bummed me out. There were so many opportunities to do this differently, and I acknowledge that we wouldn't have the big leap in history that came with this choice, but I can't sit back and think that is how I would have handled it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.