Review: Ryan Gosling's Blue Valentine is Honest & Heartbreaking
by Jeremy Kirk
December 29, 2010
This review originally ran on WeAreMovieGeeks.com during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. This is a re-posting in honor of its limited release today. If you haven't seen a trailer - watch here.
A five-year-old girl stands in the back yard of her family's country home yelling out her missing dog's name. A desolate road cuts through the wooded area up and over a hill. A child's bike rests on its side in the tall grass. These are the first images of loneliness and vacuity in Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine. A story of one couple's finding and losing of one another, the film is an honest look at the hardships that can attack a relationship and the strength we all have to build up in ourselves to keep moving forward.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play that couple, Dean and Cindy. There is an unspoken discomfort between them. When we first meet them, they are sleeping in opposite rooms. The acts of caring they reflect on one another is clearly for their daughter, Frankie's, benefit. Cianfrance builds the sense of their relationship, the feelings we have watching these two act as if everything is okay, before moving the clock back to show us the earlier days of their partnership. The film moves back and forth, utilizing not so subtle jumps to show us how they met, how they came to grow into this love, and how the family they now have came to be. This is mixed with scenes of Dean and Cindy's one, final night at a themed hotel, a last ditch effort to save what they once had and get back to the happiness they once felt.
It is these abrupt jolts in pace that really hurt the pacing of Blue Valentine. It wouldn't have worked any better had the film been told in straight narrative structure, nor would it have benefited from the (500) Days of Summer trade of shotgunning it all over the place. What doesn't work in Cianfrance's choices here is the length with which certain scenes play out and the shortness of others. The sense of reality and honest depiction are already there and the strength of the connection between Gosling and Williams is incredibly evident, so why the necessity to view a stretched out cunnilingis scene is questionable. Other stretched out scenes (one involving an abortion clinic, the other centering on Gosling playing the ukulele on a street corner) may elicit negative reactions, but those scenes worked for me. Their entirety plays a part, and, if whoever picks this film up for distribution does not use that ukulele scene as the central point of the film's trailer they will be missing out a very powerful moment in the building of a relationship.
That relationship, the connection between the characters, anyway, is solid given the chemistry and the remarkable portrayals by Gosling and Williams. They are not perfect characters, to say the very least. The meaning for their breakdown is never spelled out, and we are never allowed to know who is to blame or why. However, the give and take with their respective performances is astounding. Gosling in particular, who finds a way to make lugging furniture up a flight of stairs seem emphatically cool. The man has been a hard working actor for many years, and it has become increasingly evident recently that it is not a matter of if he will win an Oscar, but when. He may very well have found the role that will do it, as I cannot fathom witnessing a greater performance this year than Ryan Gosling in this film. He is simply phenomenal.
Mixed and noticeable pacing issues aside, Blue Valentine is a heartbreakingly honest depiction of what was, what is not, and what has the potential of being again. The writing is remarkable, and, setting the issues of structure aside for a moment, Cianfrance's direction within each scene is noteworthy, as well. Aided by two performances, one very good, the other show-stopping, the film serves as a guileless look at love both lost and found. Sometimes, people fall in love. Other times they fall out of that same love. It doesn't matter who is to blame, and the act of moving forward apart seems more ideal than moving backwards together. Cianfrance understands this, and, with Blue Valentine, he offers a fine depiction of one couple's stumble upon this very fact.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10