January 19, 2011

Movie Review: Blue Valentine

We've all seen movies about relationships. We've seen relationships begin, we've been there through the good times, and we have seen relationships come to an end. In that respect, Blue Valentine is not a groundbreaking film. Nope, not at all. It is a look into a relationship as it finds its way in the good times and in a fractured storytelling fashion we get the crumbling of the relationship. I guess that makes the question of why you should bother with it at all. I think you should bother with it. It may tread some familiar ground, but it is definitely an interesting film that will leave you thinking in its aftermath.

Even before the movie hit theaters it was surrounded by drama. You see, it was initially slapped with an NC-17 rating for sexual content. The rating was appealed and I do not know the specifics, but the appeal was won and the rating changed to a R. Also, I do not believe any cuts were made. Having seen the movie I can see the sequences that likely pushed it past the R cut in the eyes of the MPAA, I don't think I would have gone the same way they did initially. However, I guess we all know how bizarre the ways of the MPAA can be, but that is a discussion for another time.

Blue Valentine is a worthwhile relationship drama (do not call it a romance) because of the intimate, gritty approach and how real the relationship feels. Yes, it could be accused of feeling a bit manufactured, forced grittiness as an attempt to lure the too-cool-for-school hipsters, but I do not think this is the case. It is a drama whose target audience is mature adults, something we don't really get enough of in this age of the blockbuster, opening weekend grosses, and big special effects (not that I am averse to their considerable charms). This is a movie whose target is emotions at their extremes within the confines of a setting more realistic than not.

We are presented with a pair of intriguing characters. At the start we meet Dean (Ryan Gosling, in a role originally set to be played by Heath Ledger), an aimless house painter, and Cindy (Michelle Williams), a nurse. They have a young daughter named Frankie and there are definitely some tensions between the two.

As the film progresses, the tension becomes more and more palpable as their relationship disintegrates in front of our eyes. The problem is it does not appear that both parties are aware of how dire a situation it has become.  Cindy seems to have lost her way, acting out in passive aggressive fashion, trapped in a relationship where there is no more love. On the other side is Dean who is trying to continue moving forward with the relationship, whether it is out of actual love for Cindy or doing all that he knows to do or something else is up for debate. He has his problems, but his actions feel genuine in that he believes, correctly or not, in his love for her, while she is the one seems to be checking out.

As we watch the crumbling, we also get to see them some years earlier. We see their meet-cute, we see the early tentative meetings between the two. To be honest, I found these moments to be quite disarming. Both characters show their flaws early, but not in a way that turns you away. It is easy to see that the two are not really made for each other, and not because of what we see of the future. Perhaps I have been trained by one too many bad romcoms, but there is something adorable and innocent in these scenes of their early relationship. It is an uneasy adorable. We both know that other goings on in their lives make them damaged goods.

There is only one reason, that I see, that they even stay together. That reason may even be built on a lie. Throughout, I found myself wavering between wanting them to work and wishing they would just go away. I also feel that I am still not quite sure what witnessed. These are people I have a good feeling exist but have no personal experience with or any life experiences to compare with what happens, but it does offer a lot of food for thought.

Writer/director Derek Cianfrance and writers Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis deliver a movie that does not sow us everything, but gives us enough to wonder about the relationship. Wonder what makes each tick, wonder what ulterior motives may be at play, wonder if their may be a future for them. It is strong, assured filmmaking. It doesn't hurt that Gosling and Williams both turn in captivating performances.

Highly Recommended.

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