Somewhere in between 2009’s much lighter “(500) Days of Summer” and last year’s similarly themed “Everyone Else,” “Blue Valentine” non-chronologically details a relationship’s disintegration.
When the film opens, Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are married with a daughter in a Scranton, Pa. suburb. He is content with a painting day job that allows him to drink the day away, while she tries to forward her career as a nurse and grows resentful of what she considers to be Dean squandering his potential.
In a last-ditch attempt to renew their marriage’s passion, Dean orders a room at a honeymoon hotel with the theme of the “future” – precisely what seems frightening and uncertain in their relationship.
Although this premise assuredly seems depressing, “Blue Valentine” also shows Dean and Cindy’s happier moments years ago in New York City with the glow of the best romantic films.
As the story gradually unfolds to reveal the couple’s heartbreaking compromises even early within the relationship, however, the film feels like a sucker punch to the stomach.
Much of the movie’s intimate intensity can be credited to director Derek Cianfrance, who decided the two leads, Gosling and Williams, should live together for weeks on location in the Scranton house to make the couple’s interactions more believable.
Gosling even improvised one confrontation scene by climbing over the Brooklyn Bridge’s railings without a net, to Williams’ understandably distressed reaction.
Gosling – still perhaps best known as Noah in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation “The Notebook” – hasn’t been either this powerful or relatable since 2006’s “Half Nelson.”
Williams is even better able to emanate tentative love or deep despair with a simple glance of her eyes.
Perhaps predictably, the Oscars widely ignored this emotionally raw film, which only netted one nomination – Williams for Best Actress.
Yet the Academy Awards are not the only large movie system to negatively impact “Blue Valentine.” The film got the wrong kind of attention in October when the MPAA handed it a NC-17 for “a scene of explicit sexual content.”
This is misleading to all viewers, especially those expecting a steamy romance. The sex and nudity is fleeting, certainly not explicit, and merely a part of devastating character moments.
“Blue Valentine” isn’t without its imperfections. One early moment involving Dean and Cindy’s dog, though helping establish the couple’s growing resentment, veers too closely towards sorrow in what is already an extraordinarily damaging film.
Additionally, the soundtrack by indie-rock darlings Grizzly Bear adds little to the film and fails to linger in the mind once the end credits close.
Gosling has suggested that this movie would make a suitable companion piece with “The Notebook” – an initially ludicrous idea that makes sense in retrospect as both films represent opposite sides of a spectrum.
While the former movie offers an easily digestible tale of lifelong romance, “Blue Valentine” depicts love as it really is – soaring highs and searing lows that either balance themselves, or ultimately fall apart.
“Blue Valentine” is playing at Tampa Theatre and Muvico Baywalk 20.