We flock to romantic movies because they provide us with an idealized look at what we all want love to be. All obstacles are overcome, characters reveal their true natures to one another and are accepted and the couple in question lives happily ever after. Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine runs counter to all of these notions as the film painfully examines a disintegrating marriage interspersed with looks back at the relationship’s beginning. The result is a poignant look at the sort of domestic tragedy that happens far too often right under our noses.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are Dean and Cindy, a couple married for seven years whose relationship has cracked to the point of breaking. He’s overbearing, lacks ambition and may be an alcoholic in denial. Still, there’s no question he’s a loving father, will do anything to please his wife and is a romantic at heart. However, Cindy is overworked, a bit scattered and obviously unhappy with Dean, yet is unable to free herself from this situation.
This scenario is hardly unique but what makes the film work are the performances from the two leads and Cianfrance’s approach to the material. Gosling applies his Method-technique and steadily morphs from a free-spirited, happy young man to a frustrated husband who has been painted into a corner by his own lack of personal direction. Williams matches him as her frustration and desperation steadily builds throughout until she reaches a breaking point, finally having to pay for a rash decision that comes due with tragic emotional results.
Cianfrance’s cinema verite approach lends a realism to the film that provides us with a fly-on-the-wall point of view to the proceedings. Using handheld shots for scenes that take place earlier in the relationship to underscore their freedom, and stationary shots for the later part of their marriage to underscore how stuck they are, he perfectly captures the everyday stresses that ultimately take a tragic toll. There’s a realism here that’s at times hard to witness but difficult to look away from as we can’t help but see ourselves in these shoes.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.