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“Loving” is a resonate and respectful Oscar hopeful biopic

Loving Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton
Ever since the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, pundits like myself have had the biopic Loving doing some damage in the Oscar race. I currently don’t have it dominating like I once did, but this is certainly one of the bigger prestige titles of 2016. This week, Focus Features finally releases it into theaters, after its successful festival run. Without too many other biopics in the race this year, there’s a clear spot for something like this to make a dent. There are plenty of fans for the movie, so it’s going to be noticed on the precursor circuit. The question is just, to what degree?

The film is a look at Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), an interracial couple in 1958 Virginia, back during the time of anti-miscegenation laws. When the Loving marriage is discovered, Richard and Mildred are jailed, eventually having to move out of state. When they have children and want them raced out of the city, they return, living in secret. Soon, Mildred has written a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, which is then passed on to the American Civil Liberties Union. There, ACLU lawyer Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) takes up the Loving case. That case would go all the way to the Supreme Court. I think you all can guess how that turns out, but this is very much just about Richard and Mildred. Jeff Nichols writes and directs, with the supporting cast including Jon Bass, Bill Camp, Marton Csokas, Will Dalton, Michael Shannon, and more. Cinematography is by Adam Stone, while David Wingo provides the score.

What works here is how low key it all is. While I may find it slightly too restrained to completely fall in love with, the commitment to not going theatrical definitely pays dividends. Nichols is a mature and confident filmmaker, while Edgerton and Negga are top notch. There’s another version of this same story that’s all histrionics and big emotions, but that’s not Loving. Everyone opts to just tell the story of this couple, with the emotion being natural and almost having to be earned. It’s easy to appreciate, even if it might be harder to love (no pun intended) than expected.

Awards wise, I foresee a targeted yet wide push for Academy attention, though how they’ll respond remains to be seen. Look for campaigns to be specifically put forward in Best Picture, Best Director (for Nichols), Best Actor (for Edgerton), Best Actress (for Negga), Best Original Screenplay (also for Nichols), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Hairstyling & Makeup, and Best Original Score. Depending on how the precursors shake out, Focus might opt to do something different, but I suspect the main push will be in Picture, Edgerton in Actor, Negga in Actress, and Nichols in Original Screenplay. Anything below the line will be a bonus. I’ve already attended a lunch in honor of this flick, so I know they’re going for it.

Here is how I would rank the films of Nichols so far:

1. Mud
2. Midnight Special
3. Loving
4. Take Shelter
5. Shotgun Stories

Overall, on Friday a definite Oscar player is opening in Loving. If you’ve been looking forward to this since Cannes, you can rest easy knowing that it’s very strong. Nichols’ other works are actually pretty good prep for this. The restraint and commitment to male characters who struggle to communicate are all there. It’s in his portrait of Ruth that things stand a bit apart. This isn’t likely to win any Oscars, but a nomination or two certainly could be forthcoming. You’ll just have to stay tuned and see what ultimately happens. What goes down during the early days of the precursor season will be quite telling…

Be sure to check out Loving, beginning its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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