Love maybe a many splendored thing but it has a rather dreary side as well. Both the beautiful and melancholy aspects of the emotion are explored in the new drama/romance movie, Blue Valentine, with (as the title suggests) one side getting most of the focus. The film showcases a relationship in shambles, a broken couple that is struggling to find any connection left between them. The happy beginnings of their story are told in bits and pieces, interwoven with their eventual turmoil, making for an affecting cinema experience that is consistently shifting. Blue Valentine paints a bleak portrait of love that is all too real.
This is the story of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) who share a life that many can relate to. Dean goes to work as a painter while Cindy makes her wage in the medical field. The pair has a daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka), who they love very much. Nothing seems out of the ordinary. When the family dog is found dead by the side of the road, Frankie is carted off to stay at grandpa’s house so that Dean can make the proper accommodations (bury it.) With time to themselves, Cindy and Dean head for a bizarrely themed hotel for a little relaxation and alone time. Their disdain for each other quickly bubbles to the surface and we see that their relationship is deeply flawed and in trouble of disintegrating entirely.
At the same time we are shown them meeting for the first time a few years prior. Dean is instantly smitten and Cindy seems to enjoy the attention. He sings for her, strumming a ukulele, while she dances and giggles. They share intimate moments and form true connections. When they discover that Cindy is pregnant, Dean proposes and she says yes. We see them happy together, making their decaying romance even more painful to witness.
Blue Valentine is a slice-of-life film, a “realer,” that is firmly based in the actual world. Director Derek Cianfrance consistently uses close-ups of his characters while the rest of the world is left out of focus, forcing us to listen to and, at times feel, what is going on. It is an effective way to make the audience become a fly on the wall spying in on something secret and honest. Everything is presented with no frills and that has gotten the film into some trouble with MPAA who, for a short while, refused to grant the film an R rating due to an explicit sex scene. The situation is ridiculous. The scene is essential and not exploitative. The sequence shows a moment of uniting that is paralleled with another scene that exposes their detachment. The MPAA has since removed the NC-17 rating after a personal request by the Weinstein Co., the production company behind the film.
This really is a vehicle to exhibit the acting prowess of both the film’s stars. Williams gives a rousing performance that shows great nuance and skill. Gosling chews up all around him and delivers a natural and pure performance. Both actors present us with actual people, not just characters, which drive the emotional aspects of the story home. Blue Valentine is not an easy film that confirms false notions of romance and what it is to be in love. It reveals the ugly parts that are easily left ignored but are just as much an undeniable truth that, unfortunately, most of us know well.