Sometimes a movie comes along which reaffirms the idea that film can be a deeply affecting art form. “Blue Valentine” is such a film. Primarily, what makes the movie so good are the effective and searing performances by its two lead actors, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
“Blue Valentine,” directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance, focuses on the lives of a young working class couple, Dean and Cindy (portrayed by Gosling and Williams). The movie moves back and forth between their troubled present to their past, when they met six years earlier, fell in love and got married.
As a younger man, Dean believed in love at first sight–that there was only one true love for him. He lives and loves hard. He’s a romantic, a musician at heart, and came from a broken home. He never graduated high school and seems satisfied working manual labor jobs. When he meets Cindy, he knows that she is the one. He pursues her with charm and vigor.
Cindy, also from a troubled home, has her own issues. She’s a sweet girl, but seems attracted to a lot of guys for the wrong reasons. Just as she finds herself trying to escape a very troubled situation with one of her ex-boyfriends, she also falls in love with Dean. They decide to marry. Their relationship is loving and genuine. But now, years later, Cindy is wondering if the marriage is really what she wants out of life. Dean doesn’t seem to understand where his wife is coming from. Things are complicated by the fact that they now have a child.
The movie is a love story but is also about the loss of love. Bring a tissue when you see it. Like a good book that reaches in and grabs hold of your heart, “Blue Valentine” pulls you into the lives of its characters. These are real people with real emotions and problems. We get a very intimate glimpse of how they live and love, almost as if we’re eavesdropping, witnessing first hand the possible end of a relationship.
“Blue Valentine” is filmed and edited beautifully. It is sometimes modest yet sublime, such as a touching scene done in a long take when Dean sings “You always hurt the ones you love” to Cindy as she dances in front of a shop on the sidewalk. The film is also gritty and even feels surreal in places, such as when the couple rents a cheesy motel room for the night to try to reconnect. Often the camera moves in and around its characters, like we’re moving around with them. At times the center of the frame focuses on something other than the primary action or emotion on the screen, which underscores the casual, real life, slightly off-kilter vibe of things. The closeups are occasionally so close that you seem literally inches away from the actors’ faces. This all might seem disconcerting and a bit music-video-like, but the effect works. It’s like immersion.
A film critic once said that if you want to, you can write 3000 pages about any movie. There’s a whole lot more we could discuss about “Blue Valentine” and its characters, including a couple of minor flaws. But for the sake of brevity, and so I don’t spoil the movie with my opinions, I’ll end it here–and with the lyrics sung by Dean to Cindy in front of that shop on the sidewalk . . .
You always take, the sweetest rose, and crush it til the petals fall. You always break, the kindest heart, with a hasty word you can’t recall. So if I broke your heart last night, it’s because I love you most of all.
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
2010, Rated R, 112 minutes, Drama, Romance