Review: Blue Valentine

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine

Tell me how I should be. Just tell me. I’ll do it.

What happens when the love is gone? According to Blue Valentine it’s arguments, breakdowns in communication and a heart-rending attempt to fix a marriage. Derek Cianfrance’s drama plays a bit like (500) Days of Summer except it’s packing a devastating punch to the gut.

Blue Valentine offers an unflinchingly raw look into modern relationships as hopes and aspirations are derailed by reality. Where romcoms opt for fantasy as truth Valentine gets into the nitty gritty, looking at two flawed characters who struggle to do what came so easily to them when they first met.

Ryan Gosling plays Dean, a once charming and good looking man who’s slipped into mediocrity. His wife Cindy, played by Michelle Williams, is a nurse struggling to keep up a convincing facade to their marriage. The film shifts between the past (when they first meet) and the present (their subsequent marriage), and showing the physical and emotional changes both have undergone, leaving the audience to wonder what happened to a relationship that had so much promise.

It’s definitely not what you’d call optimistic, favouring a harsh look at love and taking the characters into territory that’s hard to watch (one “sex scene” in particular is as far away from love as you can get). What’s most affecting is Dean’s attempt to salvage the marriage by taking Cindy to a couple’s motel, but it comes across as a failure to accept that their marriage is in ruins.

Like the motel room where they stay (the future room), the marriage is staid and artificial, their tender moments replaced by animosity. Gosling and Williams are both excellent and the low rent look of the film adds to the realism, encasing their honest performances in a reality that completely bypasses more mainstream (re. artificial) films.

Blue Valentine is about missed opportunities, disappointments and responsibility to each other, revolving around finding love that works. There’s one  scene with Williams and her character’s grandmother where she admits she never found love and it’s reflected in Cindy’s own parents, a partnership that’s fractious and untenable. Cianfrance delves into the things people don’t want to hear or admit. Love is an intangible, ephemeral thing; if it falls apart it could end up wrecking you.


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