Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel
As valued components of the moviegoing public, we’ve all witnessed countless romances bloom or burst into flames, or, as Neil Diamond would say, “Love on the rocks, ain’t no big surprise.” At first glance, one may feel compelled to dismiss Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine as just another honest meditation on love lost and two individuals’ struggle to reconcile their differences, and granted, your thoughts are more than justified seeing as that’s essentially what this unprecedented cinematic gem appears to be on the surface. Thanks to Cianfrance’s impeccably crafted script and equally remarkable direction, Blue Valentine instead molds itself into a truly, and I do mean truly heartbreaking yet brilliant account of a married couple’s astronomical ups and downs as their more recent troubles threaten to permanently tear them apart.
By taking an otherwise straightforward love story and stripping it of virtually all clichés while alternately depicting the absolute best and worst epochs of Dean and Cindy’s relationship, we as the audience are left with an immeasurably believable film that rarely ceases to hold our attention thanks to how commonplace the couple’s troubles really are. Both Dean and Cindy are confronted with everyday occurrences that either will or won’t have a detrimental effect on their struggling marriage depending solely on factors that often coincide with that of real-life couples. Whether a husband catches wind of his wife’s recent run-in with an old flame or her coworker’s unwarranted advances toward her, jealousy and similar feelings of rage will inevitably come into play, and in the case of Gosling’s Dean, they most certainly do, thus adding insult to injury as both male and female attempt to better themselves for the sake of their only daughter.
Further aiding Blue Valentine are the interactions themselves that take place between our two lovebirds, of which once again manage to deftly avoid the infinite amount of clichés put forth by the genre’s predecessors by sporting an almost improvised nature that allows one to fully immerse themselves in their ongoing predicament from a purely emotional standpoint. Coupled with various instances of increasingly believable dialogue and a genuine, down-to-earth sense of humor that’s undeniably effective, each scene, no matter what the intended mood, remains uncannily absorbing and sheds a great deal of light on the harsh realities of modern relationships. The dual narrative structure coincides wonderfully with this insight, spanning the course of two separate time periods in an ingenious fashion to offer us a glimpse at what Dean and Cindy had and just where things went wrong and why, even if the abrupt shifts in tone this presents end up coming off as morbidly depressing.
Even though Cianfrance’s more than favorable creative touches heavily contribute to Blue Valentine‘s overall appeal, the talent in front of the camera can easily be identified as the best our generation has to offer. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams immerse themselves in their roles so convincingly that it’s hard not to identify some of the film’s more poignant sequences with those found in a typical documentary. From each raw emotion put on display to the multiple facets of unfailing love and eventually hate, Dean and Cindy don’t just resonate as characters in a movie; they’re real people, and it’s because of this detail that we can honestly comprehend what it’s like for a couple to endure what our protagonists have endured over the course of just two hours.
Having ventured almost three hours just to catch this film at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, I reckon my expectations for Blue Valentine were rather high; almost dangerously so. Being that it managed to somehow exceed these expectations, Derek Cianfrance’s indie drama has quite possibly become my favorite film of 2010 and one of the best I’ve seen in years. Using an audacious sense of authenticity to reveal to us the perils a modern-day marriage can succumb to and the lengths one individual will go to in order to save it, Blue Valentine remains one of the most impressive forays into the genre that will undoubtedly establish a name for Cianfrance and ensure his success far into the future. Paired with two heartrendingly beautiful performances from Gosling and Williams, the emotionally devastating script and its all-too-effective improvisational essence manage to safely elevate the film above that of the competition, even if the reality of our ideal relationship crumbling before our very eyes proves to be too much to bear.