Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, and Joey Curtis
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka, and Mike Vogel
Forty pounds lighter, with their dreams still in tact, Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) go for broke on the streets on an unnamed urban setting. She’s aspiring to be a doctor in a loveless home, and he can’t seem to decide what he wants to do. But they’re in love, and they think that’s enough. Flash-forward a few years (and pounds), and these same people would tell a much different story.
Cindy and Dean’s beginning and end are at the bipolar core of Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine. In one instance, we see two hipsters full of youth and verve and in the next, he’s balding with a beer gut and she has kept her pregnancy weight and permanently embedded a scowl.
By choosing to structure this story around only the very beginning and the very end, Cianfrance makes quite a big mistake. It’s inconsistent, sometimes switching moods and emotions as if they were all interchangeable. As they feud in a sex motel in one period, they frolic on the urban streets in another. The younger versions of these characters, especially Dean, don’t feel as sincere or even as real as their aged counterparts. Sure they’re played by the same two people, but at times it feels like Mr. Gosling is giving two different performances.
Both of the lead actors were good choices for Cianfrance’s sporadic and ultimately disappointing film. Michelle Williams gives the superior performance, which could be because you could see her as the same person in both the past and current versions of her character, or it could be that she’s just better at acting. Gosling plays the balding loser quite sincerely, and the feuds and intense sexual encounters the two face in “The Future Room” (subtle, huh?) of a dirty themed sex motel are the highlights of Blue Valentine.
The title suggests both melancholy and romantic sensibilities, which when united means that this is a movie that wants you to cry. As it cuts back and forth though, never content to sustain even the slightest mood consistency, even the most weep-prone audience member may find it difficult to shed a tear. The frantic ending, as they subsequently tie the knot and get a divorce, is emotional despite how hectic it is.
The most sincere scenes may be when Cindy and Dean are apart, each dealing with an elderly person in the same nursing home. These confrontations serve to show us what each of them wants out of a relationship. Cianfrance’s structure pays off here, as we see their vision and then the nightmarish version of how it all turned out. Dean wanted a wife and family, Cindy wanted love even if it she doesn’t believe it will last. There’s a kid in their future, and a dog as well, but happiness seems out of the question.
Blue Valentine is not a disaster. It is not the “Worst Movie of All Time,” nor is it yet another generic romance. If Cianfrance was going for unique, then yes, he succeeded quite admirably. However, if he was going for great, he missed the mark.