Alex's Sundance Review: Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine
by Alex Billington
January 27, 2010
I didn't know what I was getting into with Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine and I'm still not sure I fully understand what I saw. I am fairly young and haven't been married so I couldn't compare my experiences in real life with those in the movie, since this film is about marriage. However, I do still feel like Blue Valentine is one of the best films of Sundance, despite being considerably depressing (I have to be honest). But I also consider films that leave me that emotionally affected some of the very best films, especially when they also have phenomenal performances, an intense captivating story, and incredibly gorgeous cinematography.
Blue Valentine stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling as Cindy and Dean, a married couple with a young child. The film starts out some six years into their marriage, when things are getting a bit rough and the fire just isn't burning anymore. Ryan decides to take a trip to a theme hotel (and stay in the "future room") to rekindle their passion. But mixed within that "present day" timeline is the story from years earlier of Cindy and Dean's first meeting and how they eventually fell in love, got pregnant, and then got married. In a way, it's kind of like 500 Days of Summer, but without any of the comedy and without the numbered title cards.
What I love about the film is it's simple beauty but complicated characters. What I took away is that instead of the man in the relationship being the abusive one (or the villain, so to say), in this it's the woman, and we don't see that very often. Cindy is the one who comes from a sordid past and has lost interest in Dean. On the flipside, he deeply loves her and their daughter and won't even hit her, no matter how much she screams at him to do so. Watching their passion-less present day story unfold was riveting, primarily because it's so refreshing to see a story like this in a film. And watching that in juxtaposition with the original story of how they met and fell in love was heart-wrenching, especially knowing that's where they'd eventually end up.
This may be a hard film for people to love, simply because it's such a depressing story especially for those who have experienced similar events in their life. But it also has an immense appreciation for relationships, love and family. Beyond the story, the cinematography (shot by Andrij Parekh) is absolutely phenomenal. I really mean it when I say that it's one of the best looking films I've ever watched at Sundance. As for the performances, both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams deliver two of the best performances of Sundance as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see them both get some awards consideration whenever this is released.
Blue Valentine is, and will most likely remain, one of my favorite films of Sundance 2010. It's enchantingly beautiful, profoundly engaging, exquisitely well acted, intelligently written, and exceedingly illuminating.
Alex's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10