(USA, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams.
“You always hurt the ones you love,” goes the song in Blue Valentine. As Dean (Ryan Gosling) croons and plays the ukulele while Cindy (Michelle Williams) tap dances before a wooden heart that adorns a bridal boutique, Blue Valentine offers one of the cutest scenes of all movieland love stories. The story unfolds quite tragically, however, for Dean’s serenade appears roughly around the midpoint of the film. What frame the ballad are episodes from the beginning of Dean and Cindy’s relationship, as well as scenes from the present day of their marriage.
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance crosscuts between past and present throughout Blue Valentine, and the downward arc of Dean and Cindy’s relationship is absolutely devastating. The glimpses at their courtship offer plenty of tender moments that reveal a warm blossoming romance. In contrast, their relationship undergoes excessive strain in five years or so of marriage: their youthful bliss is overthrown by toxic pangs of jealousy, ignorance, and longing. When Cianfrance juxtaposes the two relationships, Blue Valentine embodies both the ecstasy of the sweetest love song and the sharp sting of Cupid’s arrow. The dissolution of their romance is painful, doubly so through the effective contrast.
By weaving through the time shifts, the film examines the basis of Dean and Cindy’s marriage and ultimately questions the foundation of a strong relationship. Is love the answer? Alternatively, is it best to be practical? Their relationship develops rather quickly, and the circumstances that lead to their marriage offer shaky groundwork for a fruitful relationship. During their wedding scene, both characters offer visible proof that they are happy with their decision, and many present day scenes with their daughter suggest the same, yet both Dean and Cindy inadvertently reveal minute hints that suggest regret.
In spite of the weighty material, Blue Valentine is never overbearing. The chemistry between Gosling and Williams gives life to the moments in which Dean and Cindy’s relationship seems beyond the point of doom. Perhaps that is what makes the film so effective, as brief hints of their romance-past seep through the fissures of their tumultuous fights. Together, Gosling and Williams give extremely strong work that exhibits both explosive emotion and subtle nuances of joy or pain – it’s hard to say which moments are more heartrending. Cianfrance also shares the intimacy of Dean and Cindy’s relationship with the audience through frequent use of extreme close-ups and shaky handheld camera shots. Blue Valentine is a masterfully executed film overall.
The film is sweet, but sad. It’s distressing, but not depressing. Blue Valentine offers a searing journey of raw, heartbreaking emotion.