-A wonderfully restrained and tasteful piece of history and the return of director Warren Beatty.
In an Oscar season normally so crowded with overly dramatic emphasis on social issues, a movie like Loving comes as a true relief, a commitment to subtlety that helps us really connect to the inspiring material that is presented here. Director Jeff Nichols is a king of subtlety, and although I didn’t much care for his release earlier this year, Midnight Special, I put this more into the category of his films like Take Shelter or Mud that I really did like. Mud surprisingly snuck into my Top 10 in 2013, and Loving is of a similar quality. Nichols’s knack for appreciating southern scenery and understated dialogue does a lot good for this movie, but the film’s main flaw comes from this restraint as well.
If you aren’t familiar, the film actually tells the backstory of one of the most landmark socially progressive Supreme Court decisions of all time, forcing an outlawing of all miscegenation laws and allowing interracial marriage. As history clearly points out, it wasn’t always possible, and our story deals with what forced two very normal, everyday people to push a case to the Supreme Court. You can check out Loving v. Virginia pretty much anywhere.
Our background showcases the marriage of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), who head to Washington DC to get a marriage license after they have an unexpected pregnancy. Somehow, whether by being reported or the local sheriff just having nothing to do, they are arrested at their home one night for “disturbing the peace,” by laying together as white man and black woman. The plea deal reached in their trial court case after being brought up on criminal charges forces them out of their home state of Virginia on a 25 year exile. Although they start a family separately of all of their friends, family, property, and more, the separation begins to really get to Mildred. After writing a letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, they are given a lawyer (Nick Kroll), pro bono, through the American Civil Liberties Union. As they try to work a case back into State court for an appeal, the profile of their case begins increasing, eventually resulting in a very famous Life Magazine photoshoot. For such normal people (a stay at home mother and a construction worker father), the publicity and complexity of the legal system falls outside of their comfort zone. Yet, they know the importance of what they’re doing.
The idea that the two characters are overwhelmed and mostly perplexed by their legal scenario is part of what makes the movie so wonderful. Joel Edgerton in particular gives a really great performance, because Richard’s love for his wife is completely obvious from the beginning of the film, and he’s immensely devoted. However, his speculative look at his situation is completely understandable. He’s a man fearing for his family, worried about being arrested, or their children being hurt by a hate crime. As the profile of the case increases, so does his anxiety. He’s balanced out by a much more emotionally sturdy Mildred, who works a little harder to really appreciate the scope of what a win would do for them. Ruth Negga, as well, is pretty damn good in this movie. I don’t know that either performance is specifically Oscar worthy, but if one (or both) of them were nominated, there’d be no complaints from me.
I often complain about how movies totally misapply and get the legal field wrong. This is not that movie. The way that this film works through the procedural stuff that lies way outside of the Loving’s understanding is handled accurately and efficiently. It’s also worth noting that Nick Kroll, a pretty ambitious casting choice, is really good as their ACLU attorney.
Overall, the style works for me, and Jeff Nichols has made another movie that clearly fits into his style, and I was extremely happy at the product. The only drawback is that we don’t get quite enough passion or intimacy from the two Lovings. Because the movie doesn’t mind brooding, the laid back atmosphere really affects the passion between the two leads, because we don’t get quite enough context that they love each other enough to go through this monstrous struggle. Other than this one drawback that is more about personal taste than execution, I really liked Loving.
Director: Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special, Shotgun Stories)
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass, and Michael Shannon
RT Score: 90%
The return of Warren Beatty marks a return for Golden-Age filmmaking, with Beatty’s new passion project clearly a work more deserved of decades past. The new film even has a damn theme song.
There’s a lot here that really works, and a lot here that feels too messy and incomplete to recommend. Overall, for someone who loves movie making and will appreciate the classic style, it may be worth supporting Rules Don’t Apply. If that isn’t you, then this film probably is not for your tastes. It’s very retro, and very fine with being a work of years past.
Our lead is Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), a young entrepreneur who moves to Los Angeles in the hope of getting help to collect land to start developing affordable housing. He takes a job for the mysterious Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty), driving starlets around from their gorgeous Hollywood homes the movie studios that Hughes owns. Among those starlets is the recently arrived Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), who has moved out to LA with her overbearing mother (Annette Bening). Marla’s innocent but ambitious energy captivates Frank, but they don’t pursue their affections because of Hughes’s rule that the drivers cannot be involved with his girls, and because Frank has a fiancee back at home (Taissa Farmiga). Frank becomes more important in Hughes’s company, winning his affections as a boss, but Hughes has begun to lose his grip on reality, making dangerous declarations and requests that alienate and infuriate his staff. As these story-lines are both solid separately, they never really combine in a fruitful manner.
The performances are all outstanding, whether it be a gigantic supporting cast that nails it, or our three leads, but it was Ehrenreich and Collins who really make this movie into something watchable. Collins is lovely in her portrayal of the Hollywood newcomer, and Ehrenreich shows why his stock is rising, also. Beatty’s passionate portrayal of Hughes, with more eccentricities and quirks to count is mined often for comedy, but also for dramatic effect when we see him break down. (Shout out to Matthew Broderick as a fellow driver, too. He’s pretty good).
Small things that really work are the different film stock for the establishing shots of 60s Hollywood, while the rest is very digitally pristine. It’s as if Beatty wanted to keep just a little bit of that old-film richness to his aesthetic. The problem is that the movie about the romance, and the movie about Hughes’s psychological decline are very separate movies. There’s an overplot that tries to mend them together, but it just ends up overly dramatic and silly, while the separate parts suffer from a patchwork script. Collins and Ehrenreich have true chemistry, and there’s a few scenes of Beatty’ Hughes, whether it be from mystique or hilarity, that work really well. All in all however, it’s an inconsistent movie that never stops being at least enjoyable. It’s worth a passing grade.
Rules Don’t Apply (2016)
Director: Warren Beatty (Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Dick Tracy, Bulworth)
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Matthew Broderick, and Annette Bening
with: Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Martin Sheen, Taissa Farmiga, and Oliver Platt
RT Score: 57%