Gervais Hires ‘Go To’ Dwarf; Lovings Triumph Over Hate: Review

Richard and Mildred Loving
Richard and Mildred Loving in "The Loving Story." The show airs Tuesday on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Source: HBO via Bloomberg

Richard and Mildred Loving were unlikely civil rights warriors. He was shy and uncommunicative, she was soft-spoken and gentle, and neither was schooled in matters of politics and the law.

But their interracial marriage changed history, and Nancy Buirski’s HBO documentary “The Loving Story” is a timely reminder that the most personal of all institutions is never less than political.

Young small-town sweethearts -- he was white, she was black and Native American -- the Lovings quietly married in Washington, D.C. on June 2, 1958.

Back in their native Virginia, the couple were rousted from bed by a local sheriff and charged with miscegenation, a felony.

The couple’s one-year jail sentence was suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia (and their extended families) forever.

“The Loving Story” recounts the fine points of the legal battle that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1967 decision striking down all anti-miscegenation laws.

The film implicitly invites comparisons to today’s battles over gay marriage, while rare home movies and recent interviews with the now-deceased couple’s lawyers and daughter add personal perspective and intimacy to the film.

Still, the interior lives of Richard and Mildred remain elusive. Even in home movies, they seem reticent, reminders of an era before cameras became confessionals, when private people entered the spotlight only when dragged there.

“The Loving Story” airs tonight on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***

‘Life’s Too Short’

In HBO’s comic faux-documentary series “Life’s Too Short,” Warwick Davis, Britain’s self-described “go-to dwarf,” gets stuffed in a trash can and dons a ratty teddy bear hide to recreate his glory days as an Ewok.

Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, “Life’s Too Short” is the duo’s latest celebration of humiliation as humor.

Best known for 1988’s “Willow,” Davis stands in lines with Gervais’s characters in both the British version of “The Office” and HBO’s “Extras” to take whatever pies his face has coming.

The daily indignities (a passerby loudly compares him to Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer) are ready-made for Gervais’ comic vivisection. The cameras follow blustery Davis (he calls himself the Martin Luther King of dwarves) as his marriage crumbles and his acting career is reduced to pestering Gervais and Merchant for minor roles.

Meanwhile, his fledgling business as a talent agent for other dwarves falters, mostly because he grabs all auditions for himself.

Celebrity Encounters

When the short stuff wears thin, Gervais and Merchant fall back on their time-tested formula: Deflate their target’s outsize ego via celebrity encounters.

Johnny Depp, said to be researching the title role of Tim Burton’s upcoming (fictional) production of “Rumpelstiltskin,” asks Davis to stand in the toilet bowl to simulate the sewer-dwelling fairy tale villain. Helena Bonham Carter demands that Davis, working as stand-in for a child actor, deliver his lines from a trash can so as not to impede her concentration.

Better is the first-episode appearance of Liam Neeson, meeting with Gervais, Merchant and Davis to discuss a newfound interest in a comedy career.

“I’m a funny guy,” says the stone-faced actor, before launching into an intensely serious improv routine about AIDS.

Which just might be the funniest moment on a Gervais show since David Bowie sang “Little Fat Man” on “Extras.”

“Life’s Too Short” airs Sunday on HBO at 10:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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