There is certain warning signs that Derek Cianfrance’s film might be one of those little personal pieces, with aspirations of grabbing Oscar votes through its worthiness and that it seemingly gives its two largely overlooked leads the whole of the 114 minutes to flex their collective muscles and prove to the world that they are big hitters. But nothing could be further from the truth as Blue Valentine is a much more, raw and stripped down, twisted, but beautifully crafted film than I ever expected.
Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling play Cindy and Dean a young married couple struggling to support themselves and their three year old daughter. At the start of the film it is clear that they have a very prickly relationship, with almost the smallest of things setting off a major row. Then over the course of the film we get the story of how their relationship started and developed and the breakdown of it running paralleled, allowing the viewer to see the major plot points explained and contrasted and compared.
Although there are occasions when things appear to be getting melodramatic, this aspect is finely kept in check by the superb naturalistic and balanced turns from Gosling and Williams who are truly compelling and believable as the couple from hell, the two actors calmly build up the unstoppable break down of their relationship. Blue Valentine belongs in the same vein as Alan Parker’s Shoot the Moon and the more recent Revolutionary Road as tragic stories of couples doomed to fail, but in which it is the horror of which they do so, and the fact you can see it coming which is really gripping, almost like bracing yourself for a really nasty car crash.
It is also worth pointing out that the brooding, chilling score by Grizzly Bear is so inspired that it does serve almost like a character in the film, and blends seamlessly with the dazzling, melancholic visuals, all this comes together nicely to create something which while bleak is also enchanting.
A couple of minor complaints I have are that a few scenes are slightly over written and could have done with being edited down. Also certain elements of the story go unexplained, two examples being when Cindy says that she lost her virginity at thirteen and might have had as many as twenty sexual partners, a side to her character we had not seen, and which the film does not expend on further. Also the friendship with the doctor at work, who rather than helping Cindy out because it is the right to do, is actually doing it to get closer to her romantically might have been more explored. In a way the two strands tie in nicely as the fact she has been with so many men for purely physical reasons maybe shows that there is a pattern of men in her life (including her father) being disappointments, still these moments did feel a little sloppy to me.
None the less I was so engrossed in the central pairing, and the sheer beauty and craftsmanship of the film than these flaws mattered very little in the grand scheme of things. Blue Valentine is the most honest and warmest account of a relationship on the rocks you might see all year, and I for one hope it brings the two leads long and overdue praise.
DIRECTOR: DEREK CIANFRANCE
WRITER: CIANFRANCE, JOEY CURTIS
CAST: RYAN GOSLING, MICHELLE WILLIAMS, JOHN DOMAN
RUNTIME: 120 MINS