Brandon's Sundance Review: Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine

January 28, 2010

Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine

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

Find more posts: Review, Sundance 10



Offtopic Question: Did you think Spike Jonze's short I'm Here reflect the relationship with Spike and Michelle Williams? Enjoyed your review btw.

Zach Marshall on Jan 28, 2010


Great review Many people seem to really love this film. I wonder who will pick it up.

M on Jan 28, 2010


this years 500 Days of Summer?

swisschez on Jan 28, 2010


Still no clip? Its over at MTV if anybody wants to see a clip of the movie.

Me on Jan 28, 2010


#4 - We don't post clips on FS. I think they ruin the movie and the experience. I suggest that no one watches any footage from this until an official trailer is released.

Alex Billington on Jan 28, 2010


Some of this was filmed in Scranton PA where I go to school, I know a number of people who helped out and I think a few of my friends are in some of the shots. I'm not really big on movies like this but if you gave it a 10 all the more reason to check it out

Jeff on Jan 28, 2010


It doesnt ruin the moive if anything a trailer can ruin the movie worse than a clip can.

Me on Jan 28, 2010


a clip gives a better look at a movie than a trailer does. trailers mislead often, but a clip usually doesn't.

chj on Jan 28, 2010


any comment on the music from the film? which was done by Grizzly Bear by the way.

music on Jan 28, 2010


Gosling is the best actor to come along in years,I hope he plays the Riddler in next Batman movie.

tir na nog on Jan 29, 2010


What chj said.

Me on Jan 29, 2010


This movie sounds depressing. "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." How is it refreshing to see a marriage fall apart exactly? "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." I'm sooooo boggled as to how people could actually see this as a bad thing. A faithful man who is SATISFIED with his life and supportive of his wife. Do you guys really think that every relationship will be passion, passion, passion forever? Well that's not how it goes and being committed means sticking together through think and thin. When I said "I DO" I meant it.

Proudfoot on Jan 30, 2010


No ambition in life is certainly a bad thing. And i think he means its refreshing to finally see the womans side of things coming from the flailing marriage aspect.

Me on Jan 30, 2010


Brandon, thanks for your review. I have been haunted by the film since I saw it. I love that you got it. I have never seen so much intimacy between actors on a screen. The chemistry is palpable. There are those that criticize its structure, those that say that no one wants to watch a two-hour breakup film, those that say parts of the film are redundant. I would only hope that they could sit in a screening room, shut down their brains, and experience both the brilliant acting and the raw emotion of this beautiful, stirring film. P.S. The credits sequence was amazing.

Victoria on Feb 1, 2010


To Me: where can i find the clip?

Victoria on Feb 1, 2010


I couldn't put into words what I thought about this film but your first paragraph did it! I have not been able to stop thinking about this film!

Brittney on Feb 2, 2010


One reviewer in Philadelphia criticized the film for not showing what happened in-between. Instead of asking about what was not in the film, he might has closer studied what was in the film. The boy fell in love, the girl simply chose the better a result, he never had to work for her respect, and she never took time to consider her real feelings. The seeds of their destruction were sewn from the start.

cinemon on Jan 23, 2011

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