Loving ( the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple whose marriage led to the end of anti-miscengenation laws in the United States in 1967 ) and Lazy Eye ( about a onetime gay couple hooking up 15 years after their first parting ) are both superb examples of the quiet, contemplative romantic dramas that announce the arrival of awards season at the movies. Whether these two excellent films will end up in the winner's circle remains to be seen, but cast your vote in their direction this weekend at the Cineplex and online.
Jeff Nichols, writer-director of 2012's Mud, is back in familiar territory in the Deep South with Loving. As in that critically acclaimed drama, the natural beauty of the rural locations ( this time in Virginia ) become an integral part of the plot. The romance of Richard Loving ( Joel Edgerton ), a white auto mechanic, and his Black girlfriend, Mildred Jeter ( Ruth Negga ), isn't considered all that unusual when we first encounter them in 1958. Living together, and expecting their first child, the couple goes about their simple lives amidst their lush surroundings.
However, when the duo legally weds in the nearby District of Columbia, they find themselves under arrest after returning to Virginia. Although the Lovings escape conviction, they do so only on the understanding that they must leave the state and not return for 25 years. Separated from family and the bucolic countryside they adore, the couple complies, having three children in the ensuing years. But after their eldest son is hit by a car, Mildred, who hates city life, decides that returning to Virginia is worth the risks. Once back home, Mildred enlists legal help who eventually take their case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Unlike movies about other landmark cases, Nichols keeps the story out of the courtroom and focused on the powerful relationship of the Lovings. The duo seem to define the dignity and fortitude of quiet revolutionariesneither wanting anything more than to be treated with the same respect and legal status as their countrymen. The Australian Edgerton's Richard, slack-jawed and a bit tersealthough clearly under the spell of his Mildredhas become an expert at playing these open-mouthed, nearly mute characters with an underlying sweetness. Negga is a wonder as the quiet storm at the center of the film, conveying much of her performance through her amazing eyes that telegraphs enormous strength.
Although the acting is nearly enough in this unfussy, straight-forward film that artfully captures the tone of the relationship and the events leading to the landmark decision, Loving could have used a bit more juice. The occasional conflicts are hinted at between the couple but they disappear as quickly as they arise, and I don't think it wouldn't have damaged the integrity of the characters to have developed those aspects further. However, the Lovings' struggle for marriage equality obviously will resonate very strongly with Our People, and their courageous stance is respectfully played out in this powerful movie.
Writer-director Tim Kirkman's Lazy Eye is also performance-driven, quietly powerful and palpably sexy, although it's filled to the brim with dialoguetons of it. Nearly from the moment graphic artist Dean ( Lucas Near-Vrbrughe ) meets ex-boyfriend Alex ( Aaron Costa Ganis )whom he hasn't seen or heard from in 15 yearsthe two talk and talk and talk. That is, they converse in between bouts of hot lovemaking all over the vacation house in the blazing hot California desert. During the course of this decidedly lusty weekend, the two men re-examine their one-time promising relationship and, between all the sexy times, contemplate a reconciliation.
Kirkman, who made the delicately wrought Loggerheads in 2004 ( and should make more movies ), has a rare gift for writing dialogue that is at once natural-sounding and intimate, yet a touch theatrical. It's rare for me to sit still for a two-hander ( a project with two actors )they always seem to be lacking in some crucial area. But Kirkman's Lazy Eye is the exception and it's a pleasure to follow these two characters ( and the marvelous actors playing them ) as they contemplate the intricacies of what might have beenand what might still be.
Loving is in theaters, while Lazy Eye is available VOD; for the latter, visit lazyeyemovie.com .
Pride Films and Plays ( PFP ) is presenting the fourth edition of its Queer Bits Fall Film Festival on Sunday, Nov. 13, at The Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., at 7 p.m. The fest presents eight queer-themed shortsall making their Chicago debutsin a variety of genres. A brief talkback with filmmakers Dan Pal and Brittany Alsot will follow. https://www.facebook.com/events/1106155292767605/
Upcoming movie calendar
Highlights from films ( alphabetized by date ) opening in Chicago, Nov. 11 and 18 ( with some descriptions coming from studio press materials ):
Arrival ( Nov. 11 )A linguistics professor ( Amy Adams ) leads a team of investigators when huge spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As global war threatens, the professor frantically desperately tries to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors and learn their true intentions.
The Eagle Huntress ( Nov. 11 )Director Otto Bell's feminist documentary focuses on Aishol-pan, a 13-year-old girl who trains to become the first female in 12 generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter, and rises to the pinnacle of a tradition that has been handed down from father to son for centuries. While there are many old Kazakh eagle hunters who vehemently reject the idea of any female taking part in their ancient tradition, Aisholpan's father, Nurgaiv, believes that a girl can do anything a boy can, as long as she's determined.
Lazy Eye ( Nov. 11 )See details above.
Loving ( Nov. 11 )See details above.
Shut In ( Nov. 11 )A psychological horror story features Naomi Watts as a child psychologist living in isolation in rural New England following the death of her husband in a car accident that also injures her 18-year-old stepson, who is bedridden in a catatonic state. When a young patient goes missing, Watts becomes convinced that she and her stepson are being haunted.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk ( Nov. 18 )Ang Lee, Oscar-winning director of Brokeback Mountain, returns with this inspirational story. Nineteen-year-old private Billy Lynn ( Joe Alwyn ), along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, what really happened to the squad is revealed, contrasting the realities of the war with America's perceptions. The movie's based on the Ben Fountain novel.
The Edge of Seventeen ( Nov. 18 )Everyone knows that growing up is hard, and life is no easier for high school junior Nadine ( Hailee Steinfeld ), who is already at peak awkwardness when her all-star older brother Darian ( Blake Jenner ) starts dating her best friend, Krista ( Haley Lu Richardson ). All at once, Nadine feels more alone than ever, until an unexpected friendship with a thoughtful teen ( Hayden Szeto ) gives her a glimmer of hope that things just might not be so terrible after all.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ( Nov. 18 )The year is 1926, and Newt Scamander ( Eddie Redmayne ) has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident, were it not for a No-Maj ( American for Muggle ) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case and the escape of some of Newt's fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.