Thursday, January 13, 2011
We’ve seen these characters many times: boy and girl in a storybook romance destined to last forever, and our final image of the happy couple is one of warm, loving embrace. But what happens next?
Blue Valentine has its own take on “happily ever after,” and it’s not pretty. Sure, Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) love one another at first, but a variety of circumstances complicate their marriage beyond repair. This much is for sure: They both love their daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka), and knowing that she’s caught in the middle of her parents’ fury is devastating.
The brilliant thing about writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s film is the way it inter-cuts Dean and Cindy’s meeting and early days of courtship with the slow, painful decline of their marriage. The more we like them as a couple – indeed, the more they seem perfect for one another while they are dating and falling in love – the more jarring it is to endure the disdain and tension they share in the future sequences. It’s obvious that they despise one another as human beings, but hold on to their marriage for a variety of reasons, none of which are healthy.
During one scene, Dean takes Cindy to a tacky hotel in which they stay in the “Future Room,” a pseudo-futuristic enclave engrossed in heavy blue lighting and a variety of cheap little gadgets. Dean sees it as an opportunity to reignite their passion, and does everything he can to feel a physical connection with his wife. However, Cindy is too fed up and numb to him to give it a chance, and the results are disastrous.
Regardless of how smart the editing and script are, Cianfrance’s film would be nowhere without its two leads, both of whom are outstanding. Gosling has an unmistakable raw intensity that manifests in moments of heartache and anger, and he couples it with a likeable charm that’s infectious. We like Dean at times and dislike (or don’t understand) him at others, but at all times we know we’re watching a ferocious performance.
Similarly, Williams is feminine and vulnerable when she has to be, but also strong and fiery as appropriate. Whereas Dean openly shows his emotions, a lot of Cindy’s feelings are held within for much of the film, and only openly present themselves when she realizes what she has to do. Williams is phenomenal here, and asserts herself as a legit talent with a very bright future.
The mutual incarnation and dissolution of love is rarely this painful to watch, or this superbly acted and told. Blue Valentine is an excellent adult drama that deserves Oscar nominations for its leads and, as one of the best movies initially released in the calendar year 2010 and only now available in wide release, should not be missed.
BLUE VALENTINE (3½) • Directed by Derek Cianfrance • Starring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams • Rated R • 112 min • At Osio Cinemas