Stars: Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling
Director: Derek Cianfrance
When Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) first meet, they are a couple of rather likable young adults. Cute kids, as it were. She is playful, with a wicked sense of humor. He's the sensitive type, who has a soft spot in his heart for old people and children. What happens to them in Blue Valentine is an all too common tale (told in an uncommon manner) of relationships struggling to survive, in a world where the rules have changed since the days of 2.3 kids and a house with a white picket fence being the ideal. The film hops, skips, and jumps around in non-linear fashion, so we alternately see the hopeful beginnings of Dean and Cindy's relationship juxtaposed with what they have become today, which is akin to the last minutes of the Titanic treading water.
They have a young daughter who is Dean's pride and joy. And he's good with her. Perhaps he should use some of that charm on his wife, who, as each of them approaches middle-age, has gained weight and doesn't like sex anymore (at least not with him). When people tie the knot, they awaken to the stark reality of who the other person REALLY is...and things that they may have glossed over in their initial romantic haze begin to stick out like a sore bum. But give Dean credit for trying to rekindle the spark, when he sets up a "romantic" weekend at one of those cheesy love hotels. He tries to make it work with her in a steamy shower scene, which only serves to illustrate the depths of Cindy's sexual ennui.
The plot of Blue Valentine never points directly to the root cause of their marital discord, other than the old saw that familiarity breeds contempt. Dean is a high school dropout with a menial job. Cindy tells him that he has no ambition. Maybe because of this, he drinks and smokes too much. It's amazing how a sensitive man can seem just the opposite when he shows up at his wife's workplace, careening in a drunken daze and picking a fight with her boss. (A truly wild scene!)
Cindy was a tad promiscuous in her youth, and when she informs Dean that she's pregnant, he asks her if it's his. She doesn't know. She says probably not. He takes it in stride because he loves her. Years later. she runs into the truly unlikable guy who probably is the real dad, and she's uncomfortable talking with him. Is there something still there? Cindy's dad was a butthole, and they say girls grow up looking for their fathers, so maybe she's more attracted to the bad guys. Not an uncommon thing. Maybe you'll get a different impression. That's what's intriguing about Blue Valentine. It's open to interpretation.
Good, and often times raw performances from the two leads. Michelle Williams gives us a double whammy--she's a true talent AND she's willing to do about any kind of raunchy scene just short of hardcore in her movies. In the old days, it was just the up and coming actresses who would do that--trying to get noticed and make a name for themselves. But now, more and more established talents--like Marisa Tomei and Anne Hathaway--are willing to "give their all for their art." Whether it's for the sake of gritty realism--or, in Tomei's case--just to explore her exhibitionistic tendencies as she did in The Wrestler.
The growing number of celebrity sex tapes out there are laying (pardon the pun) the groundwork for established actors to someday do the real thing in a serious film. When that happens, the last vestiges of let's pretend will be stripped away, and films will be as real life as anything you can imagine. And we'll shrug our shoulders, because the envelope keeps getting pushed farther and farther in the name of the almighty dollar.
GRADE: B +