The misguided dramedy Loving revolves around Brooks Wilson (George Segal), a successful commercial artist married to a beautiful and devoted woman, Selma (Eva Marie Saint). He has two bright, confident daughters; he lives in a handsome house just outside New York City; and he’s poised to land a major account that will allow his family to relocate to a dream home. Nonetheless, Brooks is deeply unhappy. Selma isn’t enough for his sexual appetites, so he’s sleeping with the wife of one friend, and the college-aged daughter of another. Plus, he doesn’t like taking orders anymore, so he resents doing work that satisfies clients instead of simply following his own artistic instincts. In other words, Brooks is a selfish prick. And yet for the 89 minutes of Loving, producer/co-writer Don Devlin—adapting a novel by J.M. Ryan—expects us to find Brooks’ behavior interesting. It isn’t. Whenever Brooks wanders around through soulful montages, acting upset that women have their own minds or that clients don’t hand him money for doing whatever he wants, it’s impossible to sympathize with the character. Accordingly, the only qualities that make Loving endurable are the acting and the technical execution.
Segal is good, inasmuch as he presents Brooks’ awful personality clearly and without judgment, and Saint has some fine moments of quiet suffering. Supporting players David Doyle, Sterling Hayden, and Keenan Wynn contribute expert work in small parts, and future super-producer Sherry Lansing (Fatal Attraction) is eye-catching in one of her only acting roles, as an inebriated sexpot. (Roy Scheider, right at the beginning of his film career, turns up briefly, as well.) Versatile director Irvin Kershner, who was never any better or worse than his material, employs an appropriately observational storytelling style. The film’s most important contributor, however, is revered cinematographer Gordon Willis, who made this picture just before hitting the A-list with films including Klute (1971) and The Godfather (1972). Using his signature deep shadows and painterly framing, Willis makes Loving seem more sophisticated than it actually is by adding textures of meaning and nuance. Willis occasionally overreaches (during scenes in which actors walk through real locations, bystanders stare at the camera, breaking the desired verité illusion), but Willis’ moodiest scenes are masterfully photographed.