A blog about movies and filmmaking.

BLUE VALENTINE

In Actors, drama, romance on December 14, 2010 at 1:23 am

I recently watched Lars Von Trier’s ANTICHRIST, a movie meant to scar not only it’s characters but the audience too. With a voyage into madness, disguised as grief and in a way, couples therapy; it’s graphic depictions of sex, violence, and just plain surreal imagery, still haunt me. Similarly, but in a much less accosting way, BLUE VALENTINE takes us through the steps of a relationship from beginning to end. (Well, a good portion of the middle is cut out, but that’s a conversation for another time.)

I joked that it was kind of like (500) DAYS OF SUMMER without the hipsters.

Blue Valentine stars Ryan Gosling (HALF NELSON, THE NOTEBOOK) and Michelle Williams (SHUTTER ISLAND, DAWSON’S CREEK), as Dean and Cindy, respectively. When the movie opens, they’re a married couple that have been together for a number of years – as they have a five (or so) year old daughter named Frankie (Faith Wladyka) – and, we’ll just say they’re having a rough day. There’s the missing dog, the actually having to wake up and make breakfast, getting Frankie ready for school, and dealing with each other. Well, really most of this burden is Cindy’s alone. Dean has a beer for breakfast, has a beer at work – where he paints houses – and smokes a lot. So, some might say, a fairly conventional – if not a happy, which might be an oxymoron – relationship.

So, Dean comes up with the idea of getting away from it all. For some reason he has a discount coupon for a cheesy, theme-room motel (with their pick of either “Cupid’s Cove” or “The Future Room”). They drop Frankie off at her grandparents and head out. From here, the story goes into flashback mode. Showing us Dean and Cindy’s lives before they met, and leading up to their courtship. There’s good times, there’s bad times, and the always necessary return to reality (the present), where despite trying to get away from their problems, things only come to a head. (See where the Antichrist comparison comes in?)

Past Dean, gets a job as a mover. He helps move an old man to a retirement home – where Dean sets out to nicely decorate the man’s room. He talks to his co-workers about girls and relationships (“Men are more romantic than women.”) and is told he just needs to get laid. Past Cindy is in college, has a boyfriend on the wrestling team, brings her grandmother home for dinners and then back to her room in (wait for it) a retirement home. The one thing the movie shows pretty well, are the lengths that guys go to, to get a girl to go out with – or have sex with – them. No matter how sleazy. There are at least three suitors Cindy has to navigate through, in the whole movie. And I’ll say, that while I’m now getting that he’s possibly not much better – Dean is at least the most charming of the lot. He’s fun, sarcastic, witty and just slightly emotionally disturbed. (That’s attractive, right?)

The performances from the two main leads – and honestly they’re the only ones that matter, no offense Faith – are amazing. There’s a rawness and nakedness in the emotions (sometimes in the flesh too), and it’s something that really hits home a lot better than anything in Von Trier’s movie. And will resonate fully, a lot longer than some of the most poignant scenes in (500) Days of Summer. Williams has the biggest emotional load to carry. She’s the one who we really travel with on the voyage between choosing a mate, falling in love, becoming a “wife” and ultimately realizing she’s lost that spark with her significant other. The character here, is deeper and richer than I remember her role being in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (a role which garnered her an Oscar nomination for ‘Best Supporting Actress’). She’s strong, weak, happy and giddy; shy and tender; horrified and abusive; throughout, and you can’t feel anything but empathy.

The main thing to realize in this movie is that there’s not a “good” or “bad” guy. It’s a voyage through “love”. And just like any trip, there’s bound to be an ending – and just so I don’t sound totally cynical, sometimes that voyage can last a lifetime.  (Happy, bleeding hearts?) But in this story the main object of her emotions is Dean, and I’d dare to say this is the best performance Gosling has ever turned in – but I’ll admit to not seeing a number of the movies he’s been in, and also to forgetting most of the ones I have. He was fantastic in HALF NELSON, and that is definitely comparable to Williams’ Brokeback role (he was nominated for an Oscar as well). But, that’s kind of the skill that Gosling has – similar in a way to Christian Bale – in that he disappears and just plays real people. It’s not flashy, it’s authentic. Heck for the first few minutes he was on-screen, I didn’t even realize it was him. Gosling, as mentioned is charming and funny. One of the stand-out scenes in the movie (which is also in the trailer below) is him playing the ukulele and singing as Williams dances. It’s great.

The thing I really loved about the movie though, was the reality of the relationship. I’ve been in similar situations – more than I’d care to admit, frankly – to what is shown on-screen. Don’t let the idea of this being a heavy movie scare you away. It’s fascinating and fresh. The writer and director, Derek Cianfrance, has created a movie that covers a topic that I’ve thought about a lot – also probably more than I want to admit – and that is the idea of love. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it is; an idea. You can’t quantify what love is, you can’t really mark a specific moment when you fall in love, nor is there a definite moment where that love is gone. As shown, you can officially be out of love with someone, but still feel something for them. Still stay with them. Still love them, but now just with a lower-case L. And that’s what this movie hits on perfectly.

Though, my one major criticism would be that it – like a lot of “fairy tales” – glosses over giving us the meat of the relationship. I understand that part of the drama and allure of Blue Valentine, is in comparing the beginning to the end of these two people being together. But, as this isn’t a conventional movie – one where a spouse is out and out dreadful – skipping over that middle part does make the payoff, and some of Cindy’s feelings, a little shallow. Making it seems like she’s unhappy, just because she’s unhappy. Dean still loves her, he loves their daughter. His major flaw is that he never really wanted a family. But, it’s not like he gave up some dream vocation, or anything. She calls him on this lack of motivation, and while that’s certainly a frustrating thing in a partner; is it really “break-up” worthy? I guess that’s going to depend on which side of the coin you’re on. And as far as flaws for a movie goes, it’s fairly minor; because pretty much everything else here works.

Finally, I guess I just need to mention the notoriety that the movie has received. The movie is definitely an emotional eight-ball. There are conversations and actions that are tense and dark. There’s sex, there’s abuse, and punches thrown, but none of it is exploitative and none of it takes you out of the story. So, in that regard, it is kind of unnecessary to even make mention of it. But, rest assured, this isn’t a date movie. (Which could possibly be mistaken for the other currently released relationship movie with Gosling, ALL GOOD THINGS. Which, I admittedly know nothing about.)

Definitely go see BLUE VALENTINE whenever you can.

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