When you’re young and completely besotted, you think love is all you need to sustain a marriage. But more often than not, the strain of real life takes its toll and one realizes love does not conquer all.
With disconcerting realism, Derek Cianfrance tells the tale of a young couple and their struggle to keep their union from falling apart. Through flashbacks, we see when Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) meet, when they fell in love and where things began to unravel. Because of certain sexual situations too authentic for the MPAA, “Blue Valentine” had been slapped with an unjust NC-17 rating. Thankfully, the decision was overturned after the Weinstein’s appealed.
Because of Cianfrance’s honest script, executed to perfection by Gosling and Williams, I connected with Dean and Cindy immediately, and so will audiences. Dean, a hard-working painter, and Cindy, a nurse, appear to be going through the motions when first we meet them and it’s evident the only light in their relationship is their daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka). Of course, husband and wife weren’t always dissatisfied with their lives. Six years prior, the pair couldn’t get enough of each other.
Yet in the present, that fire has all but left. As a means to try to salvage their marriage, Dean convinces his wife to spend the night in a hotel room, hoping for a night of passion away from the daily doldrums. Unfortunately, his plan fails, which makes Dean all the more desperate.
“Blue Valentine” is not a feel-good film. Similar to “Revolutionary Road,” it’s an examination of the complexities of relationships. Thankfully, there are no clichés to be found. Andrij Parekh’s cinematography enriches the film with his intimate close-ups, making it feel as if we are in the moment, not just voyeurs. But it is the performances that are the most compelling. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams have never been better. Through their portrayal of these imperfect characters, I felt every kick to the ego, every stab to the heart. One particular scene that involved Cindy in a clinic resonates still.
Honorable mention goes to Grizzly Bear, whose score accompanies every scene perfectly. Haunting during detrimental moments, it was uplifting during others.
I think what makes “Blue Valentine” most interesting is the ending. At the screening I attended, the director was curious as to who the audience believed was more at fault for the dissolution of the marriage. Was it Cindy or Dean? I can’t say I blame one or the other. But it is something to muse over.
“Blue Valentine” opens Dec. 31.
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Follow Sherice Antoinette on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ShericesPieces.