Friday, January 28, 2011

Blue Valentine

BLUE VALENTINE (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

Two people don’t enter into a relationship with the expectation that it will develop into something in which both parties are unhappy, but inevitably that’s how some of them turn out. The drama BLUE VALENTINE crosscuts between the beginning of a romance between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) and a few years into their rocky marriage.

When they meet he works for a Brooklyn moving company while she is a student with an eye toward becoming a doctor. The future seems full of potential. Years later Dean is a painter, a job that affords him the freedom to start the day with a drink, she’s a nurse, and they have a daughter. In what feels like an attempt to reignite a marriage whose passion and hope has been nearly extinguished, Dean books a room in an out-of-town theme motel to take them away from the problems at home.

BLUE VALENTINE’S structure sets up comparisons and contrasts of the way they were and how they are. While this stylistic choice allows for acknowledgment of the most glaring examples of how Dean and Cindy have changed, by eliminating the messy in between days, the film skips the crucial journey from happy times to marital dissatisfaction. Neither half is instructive regarding the other. Knowing where the relationship is headed lends bittersweet notes to the scenes from the past, but the conclusions BLUE VALENTINE draws ultimately feel pat.

It doesn’t help that scenes from the start of their relationship suggest that they were never an ideal pair. The seeds of a romance that will turn rancid are visible early on. The film often seems less than charitable to Cindy and favorable toward Dean, which doesn’t add up if it is director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance’s intention.

Gosling and Williams deliver good, full-bodied performances that make BLUE VALENTINE impossible to dismiss completely. Dean playing his ukulele and singing to Cindy while she humors him and his proud presentation of a song that can be exclusively theirs show the tenderness and charm these two are capable of. The contrast is especially jarring when seeing them as hardened shells of individuals alone together and going through the motions of a loving couple in a cheap motel room. Gosling and Williams work hard to depict how much these people have fallen out of love. If only the screenplay had provided more of a foundation for sharing the pain in their crumbling relationship.

Grade: C


  1. I just finished watching this movie and was torn with emotion. I felt terribly sad for the little girl on one hand, but upset and in disagreement with its inevitable conclusion. I have read a few reviews and also find myself at odds with them. To me, it was refreshing to see a man love a woman who was not only emotionally abused by her parent's marriage. But also belittled, disrespected and ultimately impregnated by her, lack of a better word, boyfriend. Ryan Gosling fell head over heels in love with this woman, despite all this. Yeah maybe he lacks the enthusiasm and motivation to excel in life, and also drinks too much. But he loved her, and treated her with respect that she never received in her life. He was also a terrific dad, to a little girl who wasn't even his. You could clearly tell that the daughter loved him much more than even her own mom. To summarize, I think there was a lot more that happened to Michelle Williams that the story never revealed. I found it entertaining to watch but rather disappointing overall.

  2. I would disagree. The film isn't interested in the journey, because it is precisely the characters distanced unhappiness that causes each to reflect about the early days, which provides us with the content of a tragedy by virtue of contrast. The result is breathtaking.