Movie Review: A “Blue Valentine” to Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling

 

Blue Valentine (****)

The hype surrounding Blue Valentine has come from many different points of view over the last few months. It’s NC-17 rating scandal certainly colored the release of the film, and I went in with a little more anxiety than usual. I wondered how graphic it would be.

The short answer is that the rating doesn’t matter (Does it ever?). No one should be hindered or hampered from seeing this movie. It is one of the most universal and sincere portrayals of love ever to make it to the screen.

The longer answer is that I think the power of the film relies on the more explicit nature of the scenes. It never glamorizes sex or makes it anything more than it needs to be. Director Derek Cianfrance creates a heart wrenching relationship of which sex is just one part. It’s always about the intentions and the emotions, as good filmmaking should be.

The story of the film, like their relationship, is anything but simple. The setting alternates between two time periods: Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) at the beginning of their relationship, and then five years later, married with a child as their marriage falls apart. As the audience learns about the humble beginnings of their romance, they also see the terrible destruction. The juxtaposition of the two, while not necessarily novel, is used to its maximum effect. Every time you doubt their love for each other, you see exactly where it began and that love is visible in every scene.

The Oscars have decided to shine their golden light on Michelle Williams who scored the film’s only nomination. A deserved one, too. Williams gives the role a depth and humanity that elevate her buzz-kill mothering from “bad cop” parent, to a more nuanced responsible parent and annoyed yet loving wife. She deftly steps between a younger, joyful and ambitious version of herself, to the beaten down version we see five year later. What Williams manages to do, is find real personal growth within those 5 years. Williams looks different in the parts, and not physically. Her cadence, her tone, her emotions all gain 5 years of seasoning from scene to scene. It’s evident the Williams has lived in the role and understands Cindy probably more than the fictional Dean does.

Speaking of Dean, Ryan Gosling matches Williams brilliance with his own heart-wrenching performance. Gosling’s portrayal of a wandering singer/laborer and alcoholic father is pitch-perfect. You instantly see his charm and his doubts, his confidence and his needs. His relationship with the his daughter is a unique and special one, that never seems forced or mistreated. With every smile and pickup line, you become that much more endeared to him. With every snap at Cindy, you become that much more confused. What I’m trying to say is that Gosling rounds this character out perfectly, filling in every bit of space that writer/director Derek Cianfrance leaves open. Gosling also sings the gorgeous song that plays over the trailer, “You Always Hurt the Ones You Love.”

Speaking of Cianfrance, his filming schedule allowed for all of the wonderful naturalness in the performance to come forth. He had Williams and Gosling film all of the new found love scenes first. Then, Williams and Gosling lived in the house in the movie for a month and were given daily tasks – like to buy groceries as a couple and pick fights while doing so. This fostered the natural connection and the love that shines through in every insult and fight. Cianfrance’s well-woven screenplay sparkles with these two formidable actors playing the parts.

She also gives the most wonderful and thoughtful interviews. You can tell she's an actress that takes her work seriously. Look at those eyes!

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