Blue Valentine (USA; 120 min.)

directed by: Derek Cianfrance
starring: Ryan Goslingl; Michelle Williams; Mike Vogel; John Doman; Ben Shenkman; Reila Aphrodite
Blue Valentine

Ibad says: "This is my first review on this board as a new Chlotrudis member, so do forgive me for this. This isn't the first review I've written, but this film was, truly, difficult to write about. I think it's something that should be more experienced than described, so this is definitely not one of my stronger reviews. In any case, I figure since I saw the film the other day that I'd offer it up in participation with this group. There aren't really any true spoilers in here, I would think, but I would say it's better to approach the film knowing as little about it as possible. Which might include not reading this review. But anyways...

"It took ten years for director Derek Cianfrance's vision of BLUE VALENTINE to come to the screen. After every grueling day of filming, it is reported that Michelle Williams would scream throughout the entire car ride home from set. Though its sex scenes were relatively tame, they were still viscerally affecting enough to earn it an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, usually reserved for the most extreme of content. Though filmed in a verite style, the film is as cinematic as it is blisteringly real. It's a film that grabs you by your throat, and refuses to let go.

"Some average moviegoers will take a look at the trailer and wonder what it's about. Well, the story line is really rather simple. It's an examination of a couple, played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, jumping back and forth between past, at the start of their relationship, and present, as it crumbles apart. It's a character study, and the character is the marriage between Gosling's Dean and Williams' Cindy. It would do you an injustice for me to give away too much of the details of how the film unfolds, because a lot of the film's greatness lies in its little pieces. The details. Small and large puzzle pieces alike of this mosaic of a contemporary married couple, and you as an audience are trusted to place the pieces together as you see it and come to your own conclusions of the characters' situation.

"Many of these pieces are offered by the two central performances by Gosling and Williams. Both play their parts with the honest and often unsettling realism of the rest of the film. Between the two of them, it's almost four performances you're really looking at; one for each of them in their youth as well as them slightly older. Ryan Gosling's first performance is that of a young man from a broken past who manages to remain as idealistic and joyful in his youth as he is a thick-skinned and hard worker. At his core, though, he's a man who aims to please; whether in the loving care that he took to decorate the nursing home room of the old war veteran he helped move in or the exuberance in which he romantically serenaded Cindy with his songs, and it's that natural tendency in him for love that we see remain most strongly when we shift to the present. We see how torn apart he is over the loss of the family dog, we see just how fantastic of a father he is to their daughter Frankie, and we see how devoted he is to keeping this marriage alive. On the outside, though, he carries the air of a broken man. We see the physicality in which Gosling got balder and fatter, but his ambitions have greatly lowered and he hardly sees himself getting much further in life than he is at this point. Gosling is said to have based his performance upon imitating writer/director Cianfrance, thereby offering perhaps what could be the more relatable side in the movie to more people by playing his role in the same eyes as the film is directed in.

"But I would assert that just his equal is Michelle Williams as Cindy. Williams had some added difficulties in being the much less mature half in the portrayal of her character's high school years; not to mention the trauma inflicted upon her then  to being the more mature half in the present. She constantly berates Dean when simply being playful with Frankie, as she doesn't 'want to have to clean up after two kids.' She is faced with mounting pressures from her demanding nursing job, not to mention her home life with Dean where their marriage is very clearly on the rocks. Williams does a brilliant job filling in the gaps of what may seem like questionable judgment on the page of the script. How can she possibly let go of such a great father to her child? Why such a change of heart? How did she get so mature? How did she end up going through with keeping her baby?

"Of course, I do give a lot of the credit to Ms. Williams for taking on these challenges and giving in a performance as thoughtfully well rounded and emotionally affecting as Gosling. And, by the end of the film, I did feel like I could perfectly understand both sides to their stories. In fact, possibly the greatest strength and testament to the effectiveness of their performances is how well they worked in harmony with one another (or appropriate lack thereof). Their chemistry was real, almost undeniable, and their interactions with each other carry the weight of their past experiences with one another and how central the other has been in their lives. But a lot of the credit, for all of these accomplishments, also deserves to go to the enormously accomplished screenplay. The film is really quite revolutionary, as far as I've seen, in the way it depicts real life topics like abortion and human sexuality with a frank and refreshing honesty. Whether it's Dean moaning that he deserves a little more affection or how in-your-face and truly horrifying the actual procedure of an abortion is displayed (as opposed to the 'pro-life' argument framing it as an 'easy way out' of sorts). The depiction of a high school pregnancy was also one shown with a refreshing honesty that neither glamorized it nor demonized it. It simply was what it was, just as everything else seen in the film, which is its strongest attribute.

"And the whole thing made for cinema as compelling as it can be. And that's the thing; it is truly cinematic. The performances pulled from the actors themselves seem like enough evidence for Cianfrance's directorial breakthrough without even mentioning the performance from child actress Faith Wladyka, the best since Justin Henry in Kramer vs. Kramer. But whether it be from the crisp cinematography that could at one moment elate you as it breaks you the next, or the jump cut editing between the present and past, it is a film that truly captures the delicate balance possible between a blistering realism and truly visual cinema. There were points during the film where I had suddenly realized how literally breathless I was, and for how long. For the two hour running time of the film, I had forgotten that I had to go to the bathroom beforehand. When the two hour running time had finished, much sooner than I had expected it to, there was a palpable sense of devastation in the audience I saw it with. You could feel it. It was a knockout.

Rating: as high as I can give it. (5 cats)"

Diane says:  "Another nominee for the 'bad first date' movie list--you'd just have to give up right there and then. BLUE VALENTINE is outstanding for'cinematography, acting, and screenplay. A wonderfully real and painful'examination of a relationship 'for better, for worse.' I know Chris recommended EVERYONE ELSE for its unique perspective on a disintegrating relationship, but BLUE VALENTINE hits deep, as past and present vie against each other for the final trophy. 5 cats"

Marilyn says:  "I agree.....this was slightly different from movies like this where love begins well and ends badly.  The actors delivered the reality of a relationship gone bad where no one is clearly at fault and it is just sad to watch."

Chris says:  "(SPOLIER ALERT!)
I enjoyed this movie, but I would just give 4 cats.  Ryan Gosling is fantastic and the screenplay does an excellent job developing his character, but I don't think it does the same for Michele Williams. It's obvious why she gets together with him, but I didn't feel the film fully expressed why she falls out of love with him--I understand that they want different things, but she's harder to read and I'm not sure whether that's a fault of Williams or the script.  What I liked and preferred about EVERYONE ELSE is that it took a much different approach to this kind of story that felt a little fresher and far more nuanced (and less painful to watch)."

Marilyn responds:  "I just read this....she falls out of love with him because he is boring, has no ambition.  On the other hand, we fall in love with him and he has all our sympathy because he gives her unconditional love, raises her child as his own and sees his life only as a husband and father.  This is usually what men want a woman to be satisfied doing so it is a little reversal of roles.  She always wanted to be a doctor and her ambition to be something more and his, only to 'be,' is what separates them.  When the movie starts, they are sleeping in different places; already separated.   Very sad."

Rob responds:  "I agree that some little tweaks in the script might have clarified Michelle Williams' character and her motivations for ending the relationship.  One might even question whether she ever really loved him in the first place since his lack of ambition was apparent even when they met.  His extraordinary kindness toward her might have obscured his faults and the point of the script may have been that she finally realized that his kindness wasn't enough.  Her awakening may have simply been that she never really loved him and it was time to act on that realization.

Marilyn responds:  "Yes, she may have never loved him in a truly passionate way but needed him at the time and that need felt like love.  I thought about whether counseling would have helped them because being 'in love' is no guarantee of success in a marriage either.  They were suitable for each other and who knows what time might have done for the relationship (people can change) but she definitely wanted 'more'.......I don't think the script needed tweaking and Williams delivered her character with all its ambiguities.  Her 'blank' look at times was so revealing of the confusion in her mind about what to say or do next.  I also wondered about his wanting a baby and her fear of how she felt when she was pregnant.  She never dealt with her feelings over the real father, her family and their loveless marriage, and being trapped because of a pregnancy.  His 'ambition' to enlarge his family and secure his place with her may have been the tipping point of her departure ....still very sad."

Bruce responds:  "I agree in part with both Rob and Chris.  It seemed to me that she confused the gratitude and flattery she felt as a result of his kindness towards her (plus his ardor) with genuine love.  That does not make her a bad person just a confused one, someone who cannot separate one feeling from another during a time of crisis.  She may have been smart with unfulfilled ambition but she was clearly naive as well.
And Marilyn, you hit the nail on the head in regards to the perspective of the viewer.  The deck is stacked to side with him."

Diane responds:  "I love having the perspective of a family court judge! But, Marilyn, I don't think Dean had an ambition for a family--he said he didn't. I think he just wanted to find his one true love, and gladly accepted what went with that.

Dean was set up as such a romantic--it just wasn't enough for Cindy five or six years later. Confusion is right: her pheromones are working overtime with at least three men, but sex isn't what she's looking for.

It's always sad to see a couple interacting lovingly with their child but carefully avoiding each other. "

Marilyn responds:  "And I always love reading your comments Diane...maybe bc I usually agree and I do here with a slight difference.  Yes he said he didn't want a family but was happy with one.  He changed showing an ability to encompass something different.  While he had no goals he found a family an acceptable even worthwhile one, once he had it. My guess is he will move on actually do something with his life while she is still floundering and about to make another bad choice."

Rob responds:  "Yes, Bruce, the deck is definitely stacked for the audience to side emotionally with him and the net result is for the audience to question whether it is better to stay in an unfulfilling relationship rather than no relationship at all.  Neither choice seems particularly attractive, as presented by the film.
Ending the relationship doesn't mean that Cindy will finally be able to achieve her career dreams.  Her doctor-employer has made it clear that her job performance wasn't the reason behind her proposed promotion.  Her future seems as bleak and uncertain as her husband's.
The elderly characters in the film add to the ambiguity about whether in the long run relationships have worth.  From photos, we know that the elderly man had a wife, but she is gone now too and he is left alone in a nursing home.
Cindy's parents also have a dysfunctional relationship.
There is no suggested relationship 'norm' in the film...not even a glimmer of one.  Had the elderly man still had a living wife perhaps we would have had some glimpse of a suggested norm, that there is some worth to longevity in relationships.  But everyone in the film is ultimately alone and we are left with a little girl running after her exiting dad.
All very bleak, but fascinating to watch.  More a platform for great performances than a great film with a complex view of life."

Thom responds:  "You folk are all so fascinating. I love grog boards like this. I read all the responses that came later as well. My viewpoint, silly perhaps is that as fabulous as I thought Gosling's performance was, I thought William's was even better & she's not getting the same recognition. She wasn't even nominated on the Chlotrudis noms, for gosh sakes! At any rate, here's my 2-cents-worth: Because Gosling is so gorgeous (OK, a trifle sexist) I thought the decks were stacked in his favour so his ne'er-do-well character had its charming side, but completely because of William's performance  (and her equally beautiful looks but less flashily so, she's so earthy) I still felt she came out on top. His drunken tirade in her place of residence was unforgivably violent, & really stupid & selfish. How could anyone root for him? She was making the right decision for she had the skills to make it & he was selfishly holding her back."

Ibad responds:  :Reading through this thread and having many conversations like it is why this is my favorite movie in years. On the surface level it may not seem like much more than a performance vehicle for the two leads but I think the film is so layered with very complex and humane motivations on both sides that allows you so many perspectives on the situation when you talk to people about it afterward. My sister saw the movie and didn't enjoy it that much, and just wondered why Michelle Williams was such an...unkind word. But I don't think she was at all, she was very young when she had met Dean and by the present had matured into a wholly different woman in a new place in her life whereas Dean remained somewhat static, since he had pretty much already matured by the time the two had gotten together. I don't think it's either of their faults that what transpired did, and who knows â€" they may well have stayed together, ultimately, considering the film only captures two bad days of a relationship (and, really, a long term relationship will come with many more bad days than that). Most people do seem to sympathize with Gosling's character, though, which is fascinating to see as well. If you look at interviews with the director, Derek Cianfrance, one will see pretty quickly that Gosling's persona was a full fledged imitation of the director with whose vision we're looking through at this situation. As if the whole film were occurring from his point of view.

It's an interesting case study as well to compare it to EVERYONE ELSE. I feel like with EVERYONE ELSE the audience was kind of on the outside looking in on two very distinct individuals who we didn't know that well, where the two characters in BLUE VALENTINE were kind of embodying elements that we can find in ourselves to make it something more sympathetic. Whether that makes one superior to the other remains to be seen, and I can see arguments on both sides, although I do think Blue Valentine was much more compelling to watch all the way through. But I certainly admire the work Ade did on EVERYONE ELSE and can see why many might prefer it."