Blue Valentine, romantic drama, rated R, Regal DeVargas, 3.5 chiles
IDear Abby, My friend Cindy is a sweet, smart, caring girl. She studies hard, does well in school, and wants to be a doctor. She pays regular visits to her grandmother in an assisted-living facility. She also dreams of finding true love, despite the fact that her father is rude and abusive, her grandmother says that her grandfather “didn’t really have any regard for me as a person,” and her jerky ex-boyfriend got her pregnant.
Recently, Cindy met a young man named Dean, who she thinks he is her Prince Charming. Dean has a good heart and is very romantic (I think he’s planning to propose), but he’s immature and doesn’t have any professional ambitions. He paints houses for a living and drinks a lot — he likes the fact that his job allows him to have a beer at 8 in the morning. I can’t help but worry that Cindy and Dean are ill suited for each other, and I worry what this will mean for them and the baby. Must I sit idly by and watch their lives implode? Sincerely, Blue Valentine
I don’t know what Abby would say about this situation, but I advise you to buy a ticket for this exquisitely painful new film, directed and co-written and by Derek Cianfrance, which presents the story of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams, nominated for a best-actress Oscar) in excruciatingly realistic, almost documentary-like detail. For nearly two hours, you will play fly on the wall as Cindy and Dean’s love train derails and their marriage comes screeching to a heartbreaking halt. It’s difficult to watch, but it’s nearly impossible to look away.
The film opens at the Pennsylvania home that Cindy and Dean, now married, share with their young daughter, Frankie (the adorable Faith Wladyka). Cianfrance plunges us into the middle of things without using clunky chunks of expository dialogue, and pretty quickly we understand that the situation isn’t good.
When confronted with a problem or a failure, most of us look back to see if we can discern a cause. To show us Dean and Cindy’s history and help us understand how they got where they are, Cianfrance weaves in flashbacks. He does it gracefully, though: “five years earlier …” never flashes across the screen, for example. Rather, discreet visuals give us clues about the time and place. When Dean and Cindy are still young hipsters “meeting cute” and courting, Cianfrance films with a bouncy handheld camera, a wide perspective, and bright, warm colors and light. In later days, the focus is tight, the colors are cold, and some rooms appear stuffy and airless. Dean’s Valentine with an NC-17 rating for “explicit sexual content” (after an appeal by the studio, the board changed the rating to an R). Frankly, not much of the film’s sexual content struck me as overly explicit or out of place. Maybe what the MPAA actually saw as less teen-friendly was the realistically grim idea that young love is sometimes doomed to fail and that, as the song goes, “we always hurt the one we love — the one we shouldn’t hurt at all.” Cianfrance and his co-writers seem dead-set on dispelling traditional notions like “love at first sight” and “the One” and the idea that a marriage should be preserved no matter the cost.
So what, exactly, went wrong for Dean and Cindy? Unfortunately,