Wednesday, November 23, 2016

'Loving' just didn't work for me

Jeff Nichols is one of the best contemporary American filmmakers, releasing success after success that each stand on their own as individual and fully realized works of art. From Shotgun Stories through Midnight Special, he hasn't made a movie I didn't enjoy until now. Loving is essentially a hollow shell of a great movie, never fully equipped to handle the emotional subject matter or present it in a way that hits home. This is a good story that could have made for an exceptional film, but it just fell flat.

First off, the performances have been praised for this movie nonstop. Maybe it's just me, but I feel the two leads don't deserve these accolades. Ruth Negga never seems as if she knows what emotions she is meant to convey, and Joel Edgerton's approach to the role appears to be confusing emotional conflict with constipation. He's a solid actor, but his facial expressions seem to imply he's trying to hold off on passing something of equal or greater solidity, if you catch my drift...but in case you didn't, it was a poo joke. A really long poo joke. Now I don't know if this is their fault, as they clearly are trying to capture the minimalism that is intended by the director, so I'm only half blaming them for these relatively unremarkable performances, as I feel Nichols is every bit as responsible.

I never felt emotionally engaged by these characters, never feared for their safety. There was no sense of urgency in their story, and the very dry, removed nature of the film made them less sympathetic than they deserved to be. I wanted to care about them, I wanted to fight alongside them; but I didn't care, and they barely even fought. Simple stories that don't rely on big emotional scenes and over-the-top drama deserve attention, but sometimes you need to find the middle ground. Something as overblown as The Help is too much, and Loving is just too little. Bland is the best word to describe this experience, and I can only hope he returns to high-concept films in the future, like Take Shelter or Midnight Special.


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