“Blue Valentine” has a smart script by writer/director Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, and Joey Curtis. Although it includes scenes of joy in a child’s laughter and scenes of sweet young love, the story does not make for a film one enjoys. It also does not make for a film in which one is quite sure who to root for.
Scenes depicting the excitement of a burgeoning relationship and degeneration of a marriage are delightful and devastating by turns. Morose, somber, far from sober, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling revel as they dive deep into their characters. These two young actors are powerful players and will rule marquees for years to come. They are scintillating, sincere, articulate in their realistic mumblings.
The story of Cindy and Dean is told in non-linear fashion, from the opening scenes of a beautiful child calling a name -- of her friend? her sister? We are immediately involved. We see the couple, married with said child, at a stage in their marriage they might survive, or might not. We jump back to see the couple in their past, separate, then coming together. It’s a lovely story. We jump forward to today, back to yesterday, and see tomorrow. Despite the time travel, the film does have a beginning, middle, and end. What it does not have is a single protagonist with goals. We’ve no idea what Cindy wants, what she’ll do to get it, or what’s in her way. Dean, on the other hand, wants one thing from the get-go: true love, romantic style. His obstacle: reality.
Alcohol compounds Dean’s beliefs and dissipates his lovability. As for Cindy, it appears that Michelle Williams loves to drop us into the depths of despair – from her character in “Brokeback Mountain” and in her entirely brilliant but demoralizing “Wendy and Lucy,” this character Cindy is the third in her triumvirate of misery. Please, Ms. Williams, do some other kind of film next. Who knew from her “Dawson’s Creek” days that she would grow up to do offbeat indie type depressing movies. Oh, right. “Dawson’s Creek” wasn’t exactly jolly.
Cindy’s father, expertly played by John Doman, appeared a dreadful bully to her ineffectual mother, the subtle Maryann Plunkett, and one might have expected the story to go another way. Why marry if your husband will end up treating you like garbage? But Cindy’s search for love had different consequences. The sweet relationship between Cindy and her grandmother Jen Jones led to her choice of profession and to meeting Dean. All these characters are portrayed brutally and brilliantly. The actors’ performances are understated, the effect of their underplaying bringing home the reality of this story, forcing us into the room, even when we’d rather be anywhere else.
Aspects of this film are great: A+ for execution by the actors and editors Jim Helton and Ron Patane. “Blue Valentine” shows us the moments in a life that brought the characters from sweet vulnerability to trust to love, then drops us into a pit. Is it the non-linear structure that denies the characters an arc? I don’t think so. They started with hope and ended with none. Not much of an arc if you ask me.
By the devastating end of this film, we understand all, pity all, and can’t wait to walk out into a brisk, downright cold winter night just to breathe clear air.
If you’re a fan of the actors in this film – and who wouldn’t be – you’ll want to rent the DVD, but with all the choices out there at this time, don’t spend your money for the big screen.
~ Molly Matera, signing off to write a review of a better film.