365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

18May/110

Blue Valentine (2010)

Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine did nothing but further enhance my opinion that 2010 has been the best year for movie releases in my lifetime. Blue Valentine was one of the few movies of 2010 that I did not see in the theatre and I can only imagine the impact it would have had on me had I of seen it on the big screen. It is a raw. It is emotional. It is the antithesis of the ideal life. As the movie ends, you will be grateful that what you had just seen does not parallel your life and hopeful that it never will.

Blue Valentine flashbacks the story of a six-year marriage told over a two day period. A series of difficult, but not out of the ordinary, events occur over a 24 hour period resulting in the complete wreckage of a, presumably, once happy marriage. Cianfrance (who does a marvelous job directing his first movie) is rather vague, perhaps on purpose or purpose not, if he is trying to imply that the marriage was ever happy or if husband Dean (Ryan Gosling - Lars and the Real Girl, Half Nelson) and Cindy (Michelle Williams - Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island) just provided each other with the necessary amount of attention and affection at exactly the right time that each of them needed it and parlayed that feeling into what they hoped could be a life together.

Set in rural Pennsylvania, Dean and Cindy are personified as a working-class couple, 30 years of age, doing what they have to do to stay afloat and provide for their six-year old daughter, Frankie. The settings of each scene are so bland (a retirement home, a city bus, a small outpatient doctor's office, a cheap sex motel, the aisles of a liquor store, etc.) that the traits, both good and bad, of each character become fully exposed all of us to see.

Dean drinks much too often, tends to wear his emotions on his sleeves, aims to do the right thing even when no one is looking, and lacks ambition despite having numerous hidden talents. Cindy, on the other hand, is more guarded with her emotions, has been pained by the cruel experiences that life can offer, and almost seems to punish Dean for loving her in the way he wants to love her rather than the way that she wants to be loved. Dean is clearly the jealous and insecure type, but is not distrusting of his wife. However, his temper can be flicked with a switch. Cindy is faithful to her husband, but she also knows she is the desire of affection for many a men. She clearly wants something more out of life. He clearly does not. She wants to picture her life six years into the future. He wants to keep living his life like it was six years in the past. Time wedges this once happy couple apart. The greater the gap becomes the past and the future, the worse the present becomes for each individual.

But this broken relationship was not always as bad as it is in the present. Dean and Cindy once fell into a deep love and whether it was out of circumstance, convenience,  or something much, much deeper, it was a gift they both treasured. This is captured near perfectly through the flashbacks. In the flashbacks, they smile towards each other, they laugh at each one another's jokes, and have each other's back. These scenes starkly contrast the presence. The music makes great use of sound. Music is a huge component of the flashbacks. The presence is replaced by deadened, often uncomfortable, long periods of  silence.

The film is not perfect. I believe that if you Cianfrance really wanted his viewers to believe that the marriage was on the brink of shambles that he could have done a couple of scenes differently. The most notable of these occurs at the very beginning of the movie when Cindy comforts Dean just after the couple buries its only pet hours after the dog is hit by a car after escaping through a gate door that was not closed by Cindy. Dean's attachment to his pet was obvious and the shock of unexpectedly losing his animal is understandable. What I was a bit baffled by was 1) Cindy's lack of attachment to the dog and 2) The way that Cindy consoled Dean. If she felt as if the relationship was so far beyond repair, I just don't buy into her hugging him and rubbing his arm the way that she did. At the same time, I have never been married and I know there is much about a marriage that I don't understand. Perhaps this is one of those mysteries.

I also believe that men and women will view this movie differently. Personally I saw the failed relationship more a result of what Cindy did and how she reacted to events than it was Dean's.  I think more men will see it this way. I would interested in hearing and comparing the view points of members of each sex. Dean is by no means perfect, but, to me, he is the one who still wants to try.  One of my best friends said that the difference between the courting process in a relationship and the following years of marriage was "that the woman wants the man to change, but he never does while the man doesn't want the woman to change, but she always does." He said this to me many, many years ago and that point resonates wholly and might be the one thought process that drives this movie.

Both lead performances are award worthy. Williams did earn her second Academy Award nomination for her performance, although she was an extreme long shot at  best to beat Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan. I felt Gosling was snubbed of an Oscar nomination, although anytime you say that you want to put somebody into the race, it means you have to take somebody out. The other 2010 nominations were all very deserving candidates. The back and forth storytelling is superb and well-edited. I thought that some of the back and forth dialog between Gosling and Williams could have been a bit more poignant at times. At almost seemed that Cianfrance was focusing on the characters' actions and how they were saying something than he was what they were actually saying. It certainly wasn't like this throughout the movie, but I did feel like he let his foot off the gas pedal in a couple of spots. Cianfrance was not going to get an Academy Award nomination with this being his first time behind the camera, but if there was an award for Best First Time Director, he would have won hands down. How he landed Williams and, more importantly, Gossling, was impressive. At the start of production, Gossling was fresh off of his three best performances of his career (Half Nelson - 2006, Lars and the Real Girl - 2007, Fracture - 2007). His ability to morph each character six years, both in terms of physical appearance and life experiences, shows me that he has a future in the movie-making business. From the receding of Dean's hairline to the wrinkles around Cindy's eyes, from Dean's inability to mature as a husband despite six years of chances to Cindy's inability to see past the alcohol that Dean feeds his body 24 hours a day, Cianfrance shows us how much we can all change in half a decade's time.

If you like your movies to end tied up in a nice Hollywood bow then you will probably not enjoy this experience. It is a hard movie to watch alone. I can't imagine what it would be like watching it with a significant other. Furthermore, I wouldn't wish any couple struggling in their relationship to stumble upon this film. It is tragic. It is heart wrenching. It is intense. But, at least to me, it's also absolutely beautiful in its realism. Although from the house with the white picket fence shown in the first scene to Dean's tossing a piece of litter down towards a pair of American flags planted in the ground, amplifying the destruction of the American dream.

Plot 10/10
Character Development 9.5/10
Character Chemistry 9.5/10
Acting 9.5/10
Screenplay 9/10
Directing 9.5/10
Cinematography 9/10
Sound 9/10
Hook and Reel 9/10
Universal Relevance 10/10
94%

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