Movie Review: Blue Valentine
The Charlotte Observer
“Blue Valentine” was unique among all the 2010 movies I saw in provoking this reaction:
After 30 minutes, I wondered why I was watching a drama about a quarrelsome couple who seemed so obviously wrong for each other.
After 60 minutes, I knew.
After 90 minutes, I cared.
By the end, I was riveted.
Director Derek Cianfrance, who wrote the script with Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne, jumps around in time as he depicts the relationship between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams).
When we meet them, she has carelessly let their dog run free, and it’s been killed by a car. They hide that fact from their preschool daughter, but it drives a wide wedge into an emotional foundation that has already acquired many cracks.
Dean takes his unwilling wife to a sexy motel, hoping that a night away from debts and woe and responsibilities will reunite them physically. (She doesn’t want to go, because she’s a nurse on call.) As they stumble through the evening, we learn what brought them to this empty place in their lives and where they’re likely to go next.
Audiences seeking escape from reality had better stay away, because the movie’s huge virtue is painful honesty.
All of us know people who stay in failed marriages like this – not abusive or dangerous ones, just unsuccessful – because sex has been great, because a child is supposed to glue a broken partnership or because neither parent has a logical, appealing alternative.
All of those conditions exist here. We know none are likely to make this union work, and our hearts go out to both young adults as they struggle to regain lost joy.
We see why Cindy, whose family is loveless, was attracted to Dean’s gently persistent charm and kindness. (He’s not even angry when her stalker ex-boyfriend runs into him with malice in mind.) She’s been promiscuous and immature but hopes he’ll help her stay emotionally stable.
Meanwhile, the feckless Dean admires her intelligence and achievements. He never knew his own family well, dropped out of high school and has changed manual jobs without caring much about any of them. To him, she represents stability.
But while opposites attract, they rarely bond. When we see him serenade her with a ukulele in a flashback, getting her to dance to his strangled rendition of the “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” we realize this will become their unwitting theme song.
Both leads have been nominated for Oscars and could be for this film. (The scene where they meet in the office of the doctor who hired her may be the most uncomfortably real moment in any 2010 film.)
As Gosling’s winsomeness turns into hurt bewilderment and Williams’ self-awareness makes her profoundly sad, we feel every jolt they feel. Their lives remind us that, if broken people lean on each other, they’re likely to collapse without external support. The movie takes its time communicating that message, but it comes through clearly at last.