I had slight forebodings about Jeff NicholsLoving, which screened this morning at the Cannes Film Festival. Mainly whether a dramatization of the once-controversial interracial marriage between Mildred and Richard Loving would amount to anything more than a rote retelling. And I worried that the combination of Southern drawls (particularly Joel Edgerton‘s) combined with the notoriously bassy sound system in the Grand Lumiere would make for difficult listening.

Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga in “teaser” poster for Jeff Nichols’ Loving.

Well, the film is slightly better than I expected. A warm, measured, adult-level thing. I wasn’t doing handstands in the lobby but I was telling myself “hmmm, okay, not bad.”

It’s less fact-specific than I would have preferred, and there’s the usual emphasis on emotional rapport and interplay and fine, nicely underplayed performances, my favorite being Ruth Negga‘s as Mildred. And at 123 minutes it feels maybe 20 minutes too long. And if you’re at all familiar with the facts or if you happened to catch Nancy Buirski‘s The Loving Story, a 2012 HBO doc, it’ll be hard to avoid a feeling of being narratively tied down.

But Loving is a compassionate, plain-spoken, better-than-decent film that will amost certainly pick up some award-season acclaim, particularly some Best Actress talk for Ms. Negga’s kindly, sad-eyed wife and mom. I suspect she’s the hottest contender right now for the festival’s Best Actress prize.

But Edgerton’s vocal delivery + the Grand Lumiere drove me nuts. I understood maybe 15% of what he said in the film, and that was partly because I had help with the French subtitles. In the realm of his performance there’s nary a consonant that isn’t buried, a sentence that isn’t swallowed, an utterance that isn’t yokelized. In Buirski’s doc the real Richard Loving isn’t difficult to understand at all. I’m talking about that actor-y Edgerton touch.

In his supporting performance as a racist small-town sheriff, part-Hungarian, part-Australian Marton Csokas is as hard to understand as Edgerton. Every drawly thing he says is covered in redneck puree.

The most intelligible actor in the cast is Nick Kroll, who plays the Lovings’ ACLU attorney Bernie Cohen, the guy who successfuly argued for the legitimacy of interracial marriage and the overturning of all anti-miscenegation laws in ’67. When Coen’s voice is first heard I sat up in my seat — a non-slurring northerner who respects diction!

Alessandra Stanley‘s 2.13.12 review of Buirski’s doc is a good place to start if you’re not entirely up on the case.

I called it on 4.24.16: “I’ve been more specifically concerned about the combination of Edgerton’s Southern accent compounded with the bassy echo sound problems in the Grand Lumiere, which last year made it all but impossible to understand Justin Kurzel‘s Macbeth and Denis Villeneuve‘s Sicario.”