Playing at the Starz Denver Film Festival 2010, “Blue Valentine,” directed by Derek Cianfrance (a University of Colorado graduate), is one of those films that give you the feeling, sometimes an uncomfortable one, that you’re in the room eavesdropping in on the intense conversation taking place between the two people on the screen.
The story of a couple marrying young and experiencing trials and tribulations down the road is nothing new. What sets this romance-meets-real-life flick apart from the other contrived bits of relationship-related celluloid is the screenwriting of Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, and Cami Delavigne, who as a team have created realistic dialogue that digs into the skin; a very large mirror reflecting back what many of us have gone through in our own lives.
From the beginning, Cindy (Michelle Williams) questions one’s ability to really find true love. Her grandmother, who Cindy cares for, admits that she never really found love, even though she has been married for many years. Cindy sees how her father disrespects her mother, or the whole family for that matter. Even so, you get the feeling that she still holds hope.
Cindy has been through her share of boyfriends, but for the most part, no one had been able to get past her protective shield, until she met Dean (Ryan Gosling). It happens while at the nursing home, Cindy is tucking her grandmother into bed and Dean is moving a newly arrived elderly man into his room, with all the care of a grandson setting up a room for this own grandfather.
It is a case of opposites attract, Dean’s boyish charm actually brings out that carefree part of Cindy that she typically keeps safely tucked away. Even though his childhood was far from ideal, his hope is a hundred times stronger; a true romantic where Cindy is not. She can’t help but be drawn into the vortex of his love-at-first-sight energy.
Although “Blue Valentine” is about the downward spiral of a marriage, there are many humorous moments, and they’re funny because often times the premise of the moment is so true. Paraphrasing here, Dean points out to Cindy, “You’re beautiful so you must be crazy. The more good looking a woman is, the crazier she is. You say something that not’s really funny but people laugh anyway. That must drive you crazy.”
By which she replies with a wry smile, shaking her head, “So, you insult me and compliment me in the same sentence?”
In another standout scene, which is included in the trailer, Dean sings her a song while playing his ukulele as she tap dances in the cove of a closed retail store. The lyrics provide an eerie foreshadowing of things to come.
“You always hurt the one you love / The one you shouldn’t hurt at all / You always take the sweetest rose and crush it until the pedals fall…And if I broke your heart last night / It’s because I love ya most of all.”
At this beginning stage, the couple’s ability to communicate seems to flow with ease. Dean’s instant love for her enables him to go where many men wouldn’t go so soon in the relationship. And for Cindy, he is a man in shining moving clothes, able and willing to rescue her from life’s dilemmas.
Years later and when real life moves in, Dean’s simple, boyishness charm wears off and Cindy is set on pursuing a more adult direction for their lives. He’s naturally talented, with the ability to be good at whatever he sets his mind to. But he doesn’t care about what he does for a living. He’s content with being a husband and a father, almost a role reversal for a male, even in modern times. The couples attempt to come to terms of where they are and where they are to go has become futile; he’s constantly defensive and she’s utterly frustrated.
But is Cindy living up to her potential, working as a nurse versus being a doctor, which was her original goal? Is her frustration with him a reflection of frustration with herself and where they ended up? Can unconditional love save them, or will the realities of life and disappointment douse the fireworks that burned so brightly at the beginning?
Flashing back and forth between the past and the present—to the freshness and bright light of the day they got married, to the blue tones and overcast color scheme that acts as a space ship (or futuristic hotel room) that is destined to carry them in different directions—pulls the viewer back and forth emotionally.
The “Blue Valentine” score by Grizzly Bear has a definite influence on the mood of the film throughout, as the band’s thinly veiled and achingly beautiful songs from Veckatimest glide and float above scenes, adding emphasis to the emotions.
Hitting on all cylinders–acting, writing and directing—the experiences of “Blue Valentine” pulls you into amazing, endearing, heart-wrenching and devastating experiences. Both Gosling and Williams deliver stunning performances.
At the beginning of October, the MPAA dealt the film a blow with a NC-17 rating, which will definitely impact wide, theater distribution. The studio making the film is The Weinstein Company, so one would expect some woop-ass is taking place on cell phones and such to get this situation handled. Let’s hope.
If you’re a sucker for opening or closing credits that use the opportunity for visual and artistic expression, then make sure to stay for the closing credits.