Love isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
This is the message of director Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, which initially landed a controversial and puzzling NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Blue Valentine contains nothing that will shock the reasonable or seasoned filmgoer.
The movie is a love story that authentically depicts how two people find each other, fall in love and ultimately devastate each other.
Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as the film’s doomed lovers Dean and Cindy, Blue Valentine goes back and forth between the years of their courtship and marriage. With dedicated, compelling performances, the two actors show off a fierce commitment to their characters that will refresh and move the most cynical members of the audience.
In the scenes where Cindy and Dean are a tired, married couple raising a child and teetering on the brink of divorce, Williams and Gosling show added pounds and a sense of exhausted misery that usually has no place in the glamorous courtships of traditionally fluffy romantic comedies.
Actors like Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and James Franco have all received Oscar attention for their grueling physical commitments to Black Swan and 127 Hours, respectively — as they should — but there is a more honest merit in Gosling and Williams’ endeavors. The two even lived on set in character along with Faith Wladyka, who plays Cindy and Dean’s daughter, Frankie.
There is something inexplicably and unnervingly real about the arguments and differences that Gosling and Williams communicate in this film.
This is no searing, soaring love epic with flying doves and sweeping views of the great American countryside set to the sound of violins. Instead, moviegoers witness a raw, broken dialogue between two damaged people screaming at one another, cut with Grizzly Bear’s wistful soundtrack and Gosling’s original song, performed on a single, sad ukulele on the gray streets of regular suburban Pennsylvania.
As Cindy dances during one of their first dates, Dean sings to her,“You always hurt the ones you love.”
Cianfrance’s past experience as a cinematographer is apparent. There’s a pedestrian warmth to the feel of the film.
When Cindy and Dean first meet, Cindy’s youthful, makeup-free face seems to glow, while Dean’s unkempt appearance seems rugged and fetching. But as they try to salvage their connection in a seedy motel room eight years later, the entrancing luminescence becomes a fluorescent and garish blue-gray.
Surprisingly enough, Cianfrance executes Blue Valentine in a way that doesn’t delve deeply into the misery that independent films can sometimes express.
Wladyka’s charming performance as the innocent yet loud Frankie acts as a nice temperance to the doom and gloom, as does Cindy and Dean’s intangible but palpable sense of chemistry.
And there is no “bad guy” between the two protagonists. The script and direction weave a story in which two opposing characters are at a delicate balance with one another — a stunning feat for a subtle and simple film like Blue Valentine.
Williams and Gosling deserve kudos for rendering their characters equally relatable and flawed, allowing for a complex and intelligent experience.
There is nothing obviously new about Blue Valentine. The story is familiar, the writing supportive but not outstanding.
The film’s performances and bluntness, though, allow the moviegoer to walk away tingling with memories of an unpretentious and insidiously recognizable story of how two people are at once perfect for and totally incompatible with one another.