Blue Valentine (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Blue Valentine (2010)

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Andrew INDIFFERENTOn paper, it looked like Blue Valentine was going to become one of my "Andrew Weepers" (patent pending).  A movie that has just the right combination of smarts and melodrama to affect me in just the right way and send me into fits of grateful sobbing.  But expectations exist to be denied just as much as they are to be fulfilled and while I absolutely loved the performances by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling the rest of the movie kept me from a distance via a few curious choices.

Blue Valentine gets it's title from a particularly awkward, angry, and drunk night that Dean (Ryan Gosling) thinks will reignite the passion that Cindy (Michelle Williams) held for their relationship a long time ago.  Earlier in the day Dean is cooking up reasons to their daughter about why the dog has disappeared and belittling Cindy for running late to a children's recital.  As she tears up in the audience it's clear that she's no longer afraid of the sadness she feels around her husband, which makes his suggestion to go to a cheap sex hotel and romp around in The Future Room all the more pathetic.

This is the "Present" where we watch as they hurtle into their romantic demise.  After we spend a good chunk of time understanding their current situation we cut back some six or so years earlier to when Cindy was a student and Dean was just a wide-eyed optimist looking for love via the path of least resistance.  The two finally cross paths when Dean catches Cindy stealing a cigarette from his pack and he gives her his card and phone number.  He doesn't even enter her mind and the two probably wouldn't have ever spoken had she not gotten into a fight with her then-boyfriend and if Dean didn't use some information gathering to find what bus she would be on.  So the two trudge forward, Dean entering the relationship without the slightest clue of what it means to be responsible and Cindy out of a strange sense of shame and obligation that she feels toward Dean.

In this film the wrong people fall in love for the wrong reasons and it's fascinating to see how and why this happens.

I'm convinced, now having watched the film twice, that it was a mistake to split the story between the "Present" and the "Past", it just fragments the story too much to provide as strong an emotional line through the film.  To be fair, it affords Gosling and Williams the chance to show the world how perfect they are as an acting duo here.  Michelle makes Cindy an old soul from the get-go, totally aware of the pitfalls that come with relationships and questioning her every action.  There's a world weariness to her behavior that gives her earlier tenderness a sad weight since we know that Dean's relentless optimism is going to wear her down.

Gosling proves a more than equal foil to Williams with Dean.  He's stuck with romantic notions of love and relationships that involve nothing but grand gestures and half the follow through (on his good days).  Gosling pulls off the neat trick of making his character completely self-centered but intensely likable.  There's always the tiniest quiver in his voice when he's talking to Cindy, be it when he's angry or when he's elated, that show just how much his romantic maturity has failed to age since he was introduced to women.  As one of his coworkers puts it, this is a guy that just needs to get laid.

The photography is about as intimate as the acting is real.  We're not spared any distance away from Cindy or Dean for very long and even when we do give them some space it's just so we can watch the brief moments when the two are happy.  I would have been grateful for some distance during their break-up had my discomfort not been part of director Derek Cianfrance's point.  The slightly dreamy past and more mechanically functioning photography of the present help draw us in to the lovers' mindset that much more.  As far as intimacy is concerned, the movie has it in spades.

The final moments of disintegration are agonizing.

So why oh why is it so unfulfilling?  For every scene of genuine and unrelenting emotional pain there are equally aimless scenes whose purpose is unclear.  We see how Cindy's parents left the love out of their relationship a long time ago but the film never really draws a straight parallel as to how that drives Cindy to become so devoted to Dean.  Their scenes felt like leftovers from an earlier draft where they played a larger role but for weren't really needed for this cut of the film.  Then there's the matter of Cindy's ex, who fuels a completely unnecessary subplot about whose child Cindy is carrying and pushes his unlikability past the believable brink late in the film.

This all contributes to a very spotty and occassionally messy viewing experience, which detracts from the exquisitely realized intensity of the leads.  It's clear that Cianfrance had the perfect vision of what this was meant to be, but something got turned around in the execution.   The elements are in place for greatness and it's so very frustrating that the film falls very short of the shattering perfection it could have been.

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Blue Valentine (2010)

Directed by Derek Cianfrance.
Screenplay by Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis.
Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Posted by Andrew

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