Torrid, emotionally enlightening and voraciously realistic, “Blue Valentine” thrives on life and creates an in-depth and profoundly enveloping portrait of a young, contemporary couple portrayed by the enigmatic Ryan Gosling and the always unraveling and talented Michelle Williams.
Much attention was given to the film after initially receiving an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, a foreboding mark quickly sanitized after the appeals board graced the film with a rightful R rating. And while the film was successful considering its $1 million budget and almost $10 million box office tally, the stigma of the NC-17 seemed to stick through its theatrical run, with word of mouth gabbing of an intensely accurate but hopelessly disheartening film. And while that may be true, to discredit it as such would be a profound slight to the films aspirations of portraying love as it truly is; wonderful, encroaching and fleeting.
The story flashes back and forth in the relationship of Dean and Cindy, charting the emotionally fulfilling highs and stomach churning lows. We see them first as they are in the present: married, parents and uninvolved in each other’s lives. There is still a bit of tenderness between the two but any semblance of a functioning, worthwhile relationship has long since disappeared. Cindy is over worked both at home and at work. Any chance she has to rest and enjoy herself is continuously interrupted by either the immature Dean or their daughter Frankie.
When their dog disappears the couple decides to bring their daughter to Cindy’s dad’s house, where she stays for the evening. Dean and Cindy, after discovering the dog dead in their backyard, decide it is time to get out of their house and take a trip to a seedy, sex motel where they rent the Future Room. It is here, in this cheesy, metallic room, that the duo spends the evening getting drunk and questioning the status and impact of their marriage.
Almost ten years earlier, Dean is an artist and a talented singer, but unable to find a way to put any of his skills to use, settles as a mover. In a tender scene, in which he helps an elderly gentleman move his belongings from the man’s house and into a nursing facility, Dean goes out of his way to set everything up perfectly, making sure the old man’s life is comfortable and as close to his memory of home as it could possibly be.
Ryan Gosling is seamless in his portrayal of Dean, never once letting on that he is a part of anything but this man’s life. He is charming and funny and stupid and everything anybody is, but he believes in himself and in Dean and that makes him all the more powerful and stirring.
Cindy, meanwhile, goes to college where she studies medicine. She is quiet and a bit shy and terrified of ending up in a loveless, stale marriage like that of her parents, and seems to go out of her way to avoid any semblance of normal, practical relationships. Michelle Williams’ take on Cindy is a very refined form of minimalism, only exploding and getting loud when she has to but never the less constantly remaining in a state of character driven action.
Her performance is not as flashy as Gosling’s but she hits such an emotional and realistic nerve that is practically impossible not to imagine this girl walking down the street, falling in and out of love and living her life just as it is portrayed on screen. She accomplishes more with a glance and the way she caries herself than most do with a writhing, week-long soliloquy.
They meet cute at the nursing home, where Cindy visits her grandma and where Dean unloads the old man’s life. They flirt, successfully, but nothing ever comes of it. They meet again on a bus and spend the rest of the evening wandering streets, talking, playing music and dancing. If there was ever a point in their relationship where they fell in love, this was it.
As we bounce from the couple’s crumbling marriage in the present to their heartwarming beginnings, we begin to question the validity and longevity of love, drawing parallels from our own experiences and juxtaposing them against Dean and Cindy’s. They fight and they make up, they keep secrets and let each other down, they don’t listen when they should and they talk when they should listen, all cementing in the notion, from an artistically successful and a more realistically challenging and harrowing standpoint, that this could be the very definition of modern love.
And while you watch these two fall in love, it is sad to know their future together is doomed. You care about them because they have been portrayed in a magnificently destitute and soulful light. You want them to able to overcome the griping and outright hate that comes with marriage, but you know they never can.
There is not a single aspect of the film that does not keep up with the emotionally trying story and the lead actor’s performances. Director Derek Cianfrance has created an unbelievably trying world and not a single factor of its creation falters under his direction. The cinematography is poetic and revealing, allowing us into the lives of Dean and Cindy, and showcasing the beauty and tragedy that lies in each of them. The lighting and set design have almost a blue pallet to them, further sinking in the hopefully somber tone.
If there has ever been a film that shows the true colors and nature of love, this is it. It isn’t always pretty and happy, and even when it is everything can turn for the worst as easy as it did for the better. Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams and writer/director Derek Cianfrance have created an experience so unique and so similar to life that it is not only easy to fall in love with the film, it makes you question whether or not your so-called fulfilling experiences before it could truly be defined as love.