Film Reviews

Blue Valentine Derek Cianfrance

Rating - 8/10

If some relationships are like car crashes, the relationship at the heart of Derek Cianfrance’s directorial debut Blue Valentine is very much like one of those super slo-mo crash tests, with the unfortunate test dummies inside tossed around in brutal, balletic agony.

Blue Valentine tells the story of said unfortunate dummies Dean and Cindy. Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a high school drop-out whose talent is tempered by his lack of ambition. He exists in a state of arrested development, working as a housepainter and generally carrying on like an adolescent. The only person who really seems to get Dean is the couple’s 3 year old daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka). His wife Cindy (Michelle Williams), a nurse and the main breadwinner, is frustrated by Dean’s seeming satisfaction with his lot and is desperate for something more fulfilling. We follow Dean and Cindy through two separate narratives spanning several years: their initial courtship and their eventual break up.

Blue Valentine is very much an actor’s film. It’s widely accepted as scientific fact that Ryan Gosling is good in everything. His impressive CV includes standout turns in Half Nelson and Lars & The Real Girl, and it’s testament to his quality that he is eminently watchable even in sugary teen pap like The Notebook. During the courtship, Dean is charming and effortlessly cool; a ukulele strumming rogue in a leather jacket and hoody. Hopping forward to the relationship’s end, he is a borderline alcoholic: balding, pot-bellied and possessed with a volatile, jealous temper. It’s a transformation that underlines Gosling’s ability to immerse himself in a role. Michelle Williams is quietly carving herself out a niche as her generation’s best actress, adding this bold performance to her displays in The Station Agent and Brokeback Mountain. Her Cindy is equal parts steely determination and brittle vulnerability. This performance just about proves that she’s the biggest thing to come out of Dawson’s Creek since James Van Der Beek’s forehead.

Whilst the film is immaculately acted, it is also impeccably edited, with the past and present narratives seamlessly woven together to create a rich tapestry of thrilling highs and crushing lows. The approach of depicting a relationship in this way is nothing new; in fact last year’s (500) Days of Summer did the exact same thing, but where that film was glossy and cloying, Blue Valentine is caustic and uncomfortable, showing Dean and Cindy’s implosion in unflinching detail, all agonizing, shallow focus close ups, brimming with raw emotion. The cinematography is also beautiful, with the couple’s happier times filmed on warm, fuzzy celluloid whilst the tailspin is captured on crisp, sterile digital.

The film is not without its faults. Cianfrance occasionally lets the drama drift and the film just meanders along, stretching some scenes past their natural conclusion. Character-wise, the supporting cast, most notably Cindy’s domineering father (The Wire’s John Doman) and her frat boy ex-boyfriend Bobby (Mike Vogel), are painted with brush strokes a little on the broad side, but these are minor quibbles. Blue Valentine marks a superb debut by Cianfrance, intimate in scale but epic in emotional depth, backed to the hilt by two actors prepared to go above and beyond.

Just don’t take anyone to see it for a first date.