Monday, August 8, 2011

Blue Valentine

Directed by Derek Cianfrance.
2010. Rated R, 112 minutes.
Ryan Gosling
Michelle Williams
Faith Wladyka
Mike Vogel
John Doman
Carey Westbrook
Ben Shenkman
Marshall Johnson

Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) are a young married couple with a very cute little girl. Blue Valentine is both the story of how they got to this point and where they’re going next. Their marriage clearly lacks passion. It seems to have been replaced by the daily routines of work, sleep and mutual doting on their daughter. Like most unions that aren’t arranged or otherwise forced, it wasn’t always this way. To illustrate this, we first meet them as they are now. Then we meet them again before they’ve even met each other. Back and forth in time we bounce until the many fragments form a complete picture. Since this is a slice-of-life film, there really is no plot. We’re simply voyeurs to their relationship, watching to see what happens between them. What happens is their relationship goes through all of the emotional ups and downs we’d expect. The big question is: are the ups enough to carry them through the downs?

The remarkable thing about BV is that it doesn’t feel like we’re watching a movie play out. It really feels like we’re witnessing the lives of the people onscreen. It feels shown to us, not staged for us. To this end, the writing and acting are remarkable. Both effortlessly give us multi-dimensional characters. The writing, though saddled with the task of making fiction seem like reality, it turns the trick without straining. It helps that it is unencumbered by having to adhere to the conventions of a date movie. It also doesn’t appear to be on anyone’s side, leaving us to decide for ourselves who to root for, if we choose either. The best compliment I can pay the acting is that its completely natural. We never feel that stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are playing roles. Don’t be mistaken, though. This isn’t the same as mega stars like Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington or Al Pacino who often just apply their well-known personas to whatever role they happen to be playing at the time. These two feel like real people.

Even though this is a remarkable film, its not for everyone. As mentiond, it is not a date movie despite the fact we’re focused on a relationship. That means it’s certainly no rom-com. It’s not an over-the-top melodrama, either. It might be a tear-jerker. Whether you cry or not, it’s not a feel-good movie. What it does is give us food for thought, something to discuss. This isn’t about characters in a movie. This is about people we know, perhaps even about the people we are.

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