DVD Review: Last month I implored those who may be put off by Rabbit Hole’s “depressing” subject matter to give that powerful film a chance. I’m back to make a similar case for Blue Valentine, another incredibly well-acted drama that deals with heartbreakingly painful emotions.
Blue Valentine covers 24 hours in the life of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), a married couple with an adorable young daughter (Faith Wladyka). This is not a Hollywood Movie Marriage complete with pleasant, well-lit Pottery Barn trappings and trendy careers as party planners and graphic designers—Dean and Cindy’s home is modest and realistically cluttered; she’s a hard-working nurse and he’s a house painter whose lack of ambition embraces having a beer or two in the morning before work.
And their marriage is dying with a quiet, unspoken desperation—a slow festering decay both Dean and Cindy have actively ignored as long as they possibly could. So much so that when it’s finally spoken of, it’s much too late–the frustration and disappointment have metastasized beyond saving and the end comes at terrifyingly speed.
What makes Blue Valentine all the more poignant—but also profound—is that writer-director Derek Cianfrance and writers Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis begin to intercut that suddenly failing last day with flashbacks to scenes of Dean and Cindy meeting half a decade earlier: his persistent courtship, her defensive reluctance to fall for him, and their sweetly realistic, youthful tumble together into something both very much want to call “love.”
But the flashbacks aren’t all romantically rose-colored–we also meet Cindy’s high-school boyfriend and parents (all-too-functional in the face of abuse) and begin to understand how hard it was for her to believe in young Dean’s headstrong romanticism. (As well as learn of the events that pushed them into marriage.)
At one point we see Dean and Cindy’s present-day marriage founder as they attempt to sex sparks back into it amidst the shiny silver tack of a cheap hotel’s cheesy “Future Room.” Then we jump back to younger Dean warbling an endearing falsetto version of “You Always Hurt the Ones You Love,” and it’s clear Cianfrance has us in a masterfully tight death-grip of ironic back shadowing. Every romantic Notebook-style moment in the past begins to hum with dark portent, and even fireworks–once the symbol of love’s irrepressible burst–end up falling among the ruins.
Gosling and Williams lived together for weeks in preparation for their roles as husband and wife, and what might have seemed like a Method gimmick instead fills their performances with haunting verisimilitude—they move around each other like a real husband and wife of a half-dozen years, and that familiarity gives Blue Valentine the extra push that makes it so affecting.
Gosling’s Dean is impulsive and romantic, a tattered dreamer and a loving, responsible father who, if he doesn’t outright drink too much, at least drinks enough to make it all get by. And the Oscar-nominated Williams is shatteringly good—Cindy, like most of Blue Valentine, isn’t about melodrama or hysterics, but her weary, guarded stillness is brutal as she stares with accusing disillusionment at what she knows is no longer working or what she wants.
Blue Valentine doesn’t deal in good guys or bad guys, nor is this marriage shattered by an exploding infidelity or equally shocking event—what makes the film so harrowing is it shows an all-too-realistic collapse from erosion, not easily blamed “faults” or big “crises” that can be overcome. But between Cianfrance’s emotional honesty and Williams and Gosling’s unflinching performances, Blue Valentine packs a stunning dramatic punch that won’t let you walk away unfazed.
More hard-hitting relationship drama from redbox: