Brandon's Sundance Review: Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine
by Brandon Lee Tenney
January 28, 2010
I've been trying to start this review for three days. When I started the first time, I opened with how much I love this film, Blue Valentine (I do) and how much it made me feel and confront after seeing it (tons, on both charges). I've began by comparing the film to the lot of my relationships and how honest, real, and passionate a depiction of love the film is. (It's certainly that, too.) I even began a draft where I attempted to remove all of my connections and emotions. The next time, I wrote about the lush cinematography, brilliant performances, truthful writing, and sublime direction. While all of the previous is true, it was impossible to divorce myself from my emotionally symbiotic relationship with the film. Blue Valentine is dependent on this relationship. So here I am. Saying all of these things again when, really, all I need to say is that I've been unable to stop thinking about the film since I saw it. It's what all of the other films at Sundance are now being measured against. It's staggering and terribly beautiful. (It really, really is.)
Blue Valentine is the story of a relationship at two different times. Cindy and Dean's relationship at the beginning and the end. Each story is woven with the other, both shot differently (one in Super 16mm, the other on the RED with long lenses and claustrophobic, introspective close-ups), and both existing independently of and dependently on the other in order to weave its poignancy. As Cindy, Michelle Williams is stunning. She's a real woman. A beautiful woman. And she's able to completely transform into a distraught, resentful, shell of her former self. As Dean, Ryan Gosling is a powerhouse. Handsome and exciting, romantic and hopeful begets tired and worn, grasping at the unraveling tendrils of his marriage.
Watching Blue Valentine is like watching myself relive the rosy beginnings and storm-cloud ends of the most important relationships in my life. When Dean says, "Maybe I've seen too many movies," it's me saying that line. As his and Cindy's relationship is just starting, the blind passion is intoxicating. But it's when that intoxication is placed back-to-back with the sobering collapse of their marriage that the film becomes so wise. And it is a very wise film.
Cindy is portrayed in what is ostensibly the stereotypical male role. She's the one who knows she has to leave. She's fallen out of love. The internal struggle between if she should stay (for no other reason than for her daughter's sake) or leave is heartbreaking. She's the one who's tasked with making the decision to leave; it's refreshing that it's Cindy who gets to explore this.
Dean is a portrait of a contemporary man. One who isn't afraid of his emotions, who's sensitive and caring and loyal. Dean is a good man. He's an outstanding father and faithful husband. He's a provider while also being supportive of his wife. But he's stagnant. He's satisfied with what he has. And he's blinded by it. Or, rather, simply unwilling to see the inevitable conclusion. He's delusional. It's difficult to watch such a good man be so destroyed, but it's this balance of character and the even-handed treatment of the relationship that makes this film such a revelatory examination.
At the end of everything, we, inevitably, look back at the beginning. It's this process that allows us to evaluate our growth, the journey, and prepare for the future. With Blue Valentine, we're privy to this evaluation. It's tragic -- and, at times, it's at its most difficult during the scenes of such true love, because we know where that's going to lead them. Williams and Gosling display some of the best chemistry on screen that there has ever been. And that chemistry flows in both directions -- we believe them falling in love just as much as them falling out. And even during the joy, there are the early seeds of destruction, just as there is still love in the resentment. It's stirring screenwriting from Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, and Cami Delavigne. And Blue Valentine's best quality is its ability to provide each viewer with a unique experience. It's your emotions and experiences upon which it draws. It's human. It's simply a breathtaking, resplendent depiction of love.
Brandon's Sundance Rating: 10 out of 10