Films tend to make stories bigger, more bombastic. The phrase "larger than life" comes to mind because we tend to enjoy our works of fiction from an escapist perspective. The stories we tell and consume, a lot of the time, offer us a chance to ditch the world as we know it and spend some amount of time in a version of the world that is more to our liking. When it comes to fiction, this almost intrinsic aspect of storytelling typically works in favor of the story being told. Details within a heightened version of our own reality often serve to highlight certain parts of a story, or might even just work to help hook the audience a little more firmly. To put it more simply, films tend to show us a version of reality as it might exist, and rarely as it actually does. Loving aspires to do almost the exact opposite: it strives to show us Richard and Mildred Loving exactly as they were, just two normal human beings seeking to be allowed to do the very normal things that everyone else is allowed to do.
Given that Loving tells the story of two individuals at the center of a landmark court case, one whose ruling changed the United States Constitution, the film spends remarkably little time inside an actual courtroom. Rather, the movie focuses squarely on Richard, Mildred, and their relationship, zooming in on the people that they are as opposed to the very immense and life-changing drama by which they find themselves almost perpetually surrounded. Richard and Mildred only want to have the things that every person is supposed to be able to have, and it's almost as is Loving aims to make the comment that we shouldn't have to find anything remarkable about their story in the first place. The quiet, day-to-day nature of the film's structure and pacing seems to suggest that their shouldn't be anything remarkable about the story of Richard and Mildred Loving because they never particularly wanted to be thought of as remarkable people. In fact, Richard repeatedly expresses his reluctance to pursue actions that would result in his case making its way up to the Supreme Court. The Lovings never asked to be remarkable, but they had to do remarkable things in order to have something nobody should ever be denied.
Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga anchor the film with a pair of fantastic, ground portrayals even if it sounds like they're delivering lines with marbles in their mouths from time to time. Edgerton smartly plays Richard Loving without a trace of the righteous anger an audience member might expect from a male protagonist. Instead, Edgerton spends the majority of the movie with his head bowed in shame, his neck seeming to crane lower and lower each time he's told how wrong he is for pursuing his relationship with Mildred. And he'd this, a lot, throughout the course of the movie. As Richard bears the social punishment, he does so with the benefit of being a white man. As Richard is repeatedly told that he should "know better" as though the relationship's existence is entirely his responsibility, Mildred endures more physically-oriented punishments, being jailed while pregnant. She appears increasingly drawn and worn-out throughout the course of the film, and rightly so, as both Richard and Mildred endure a difficult journey that neither of them really ever signed up for in the first place.
After Richard and Mildred Loving are told they won't be allowed to live in their home state, their case makes its way to the ACLU, which assigns Nick Kroll's Bernie Cohen and Jon Bass' Phil Hirschkop to fight their way to the Supreme Court, so the Loving's case might change a constitutional law against mixed-race couples living together. Richard repeatedly expresses his reluctance to push the case forward, at one point frustratedly wondering why the issue can't just be talked out one-on-one with a jude. Though its motivations are hardly shown to be morally questionable, it eventually becomes clear that the Lovings are more or less letting the ACLU move forward with their case, as opposed to pushing forward themselves out of dogged determination.
And so, Loving forgoes the bombast and drama that might typically come with this kind of story. Outside a rural deputy who doesn't really hang around for longer than the film's first third, Loving lacks any clear villain, let alone a cartoonishly racist one. There is no dramatic courtroom scenes. In fact, the number of courtroom scenes totals about one and a half. There is no dramatic at-home argument where it looks as though the strains of their journey might tear the Lovings apart. Jeff Nichols has written and directed Loving free of unnecessary drama, melo- or otherwise. Instead, he focuses on how very regular Richard and Mildred were, as individuals. A moment where ACLU lawyer Bernie Cohen pretends to have a nice office so as to make a good first impression on the Loving's hammers home one of the film's most important ideas: you don't have to be a remarkable person or have remarkable things to accomplish something special and make a remarkable difference.