DIR: Derek Cianfrance • WRI: Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis • PRO: Lynette Howell, Alex Orlovsky, Jamie Patricof • DOP: Andrij Parekh • ED: Jim Helton, Ron Patane • DES: Inbal Weinberg • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman
Directed by Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine focuses on the complex and often painful relationship between Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) – a young couple in Brooklyn who meet, fall in love, get married, and then five years later fall apart.
It begins with their daughter, shouting for the missing family dog, something that seems to symbolise the loss of everything familiar and good about their relationship. We meet these characters at a point where things are beginning to crumble – Cindy works as a nurse, and seems to be the only adult in the house, as she is unable to the break through the play-acting, daddy-daughter dynamic that Dean has created, that is when he isn’t off painting houses or getting drunk. Her sense of disillusionment and obligation is palpable.
Intimately shot with a gritty blue colour palette and conspicuous focus pulls, this film is definitely from the same ilk as the leading duo’s other indie flicks: Half-Nelson and Wendy and Lucy. The film has a rather loose narrative, switching between the breakdown of the marriage and the first few weeks of their relationship, which is an effective storytelling decision. The shifts are easy to keep track of thanks to Gosling’s receding hairline and Williams putting on a few pounds – and the pair have super chemistry that makes the sense of time feel authentic.
After the dog is found dead, Dean suggests getting out of the house, getting drunk and making love. And so they check into the ‘Future room’ of a sleazy themed sex motel, and a good portion of the film takes place in this strange neon-soaked location. The two of them get busy in the bedroom more often than perhaps is necessary to show – but while these depictions of sex do have a degree of realism you won’t find in most mainstream movies, there was nothing here to warrant the MPAA’s initial kiss-of-death NC-17 rating.
After a rather muddled first act, the film does pick up – especially when it explores the couple’s first encounter. Dean gets a job at a moving company and sees Cindy across the hall in an old folks’ home where she’s visiting her grandmother and he is moving a war veteran’s belongings. The connection is instant and a tentative romance is formed. However, back in the present day the sense of disconnect between them becomes more pronounced, and awkward confrontations soon arise. There is a visceral quality to these scenes, so well-acted and shot as to take on a voyeuristic dimension. But as the relationship disintegrates and the arguments become more intense, one wonders what the value of witnessing these painful exchanges really is.
Ryan Gosling performance is kind of a conundrum. I’ve never been that impressed with his acting but the merit of his work in this film is harder to judge due to the character itself being so grating. Dean is an extremely insecure man who makes a habit of being stubborn and obtuse, and his childish antics do become rather head-wrecking to watch after a while.
He nails the character’s defensive and destructive nature, but it’s not a performance you can warm to – there are a few flickers of charm in the early stages of his relationship with Cindy, however his irritating somewhat creeping nature does make you wonder why she would fall for him in the first place. Gosling’s mannerisms here are identical to most other characters I’ve seen him play; ruminating with his hectic masculine energy, there’s more than a hint of self-consciousness about it.
On the other hand Michelle Williams is flat-out excellent as Cindy. Her gift for conveying raw emotions on screen is put to good use as she reveals the character’s scars, her sense of sadness and ultimately suffocation. Late in the film there is a pivotal scene in which her character makes a decision that will change the course of her life, and the fear and release of that moment is truly affecting – her best performance yet.
For the most part, Blue Valentine is quite an unpleasant film, fixated with the misery of a relationship – with only a few fleeting moments of beauty or romance. As the conflict between them reaches fever pitch there are a series of climactic scenes that will command your attention – but a little more of what they’re fighting for might have made the experience a richer one. Still, what the film says about whom we choose to love, and how we treat them when we do, is powerful.
IFCO website for details)
Blue Valentine is released 14th Jan 2011