|The Ones You Love||1 out of 1 user found this review helpful.|
The fact is, Blue Valentine’s affecting cinematic experience rivals many other great meta-romance-explorations of love and storytelling. Michael Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s 2004 masterpiece Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind produced dimensions of resonating ideas on building relationships and the disconnection some couples feel, all with a sci-fi narrative involving memory erasing and the subconscious. And although the premise of this sci-fi/romance film involves the same simultaneous emotional engagement and detachment that Blue Valentine also cleverly unfolds, Cianfrance’s film is fundamentally different in its dark, aesthetic realism instead of the accessible vibrancy of Eternal Sunshine. Both films radiate authentic feeling, but Blue Valentine’s emotional impact is structured around highlighting some real-life issues that go on in households like simple arguments and alcoholism while juxtaposing these images with an earlier picture of an untainted, younger love. The film is possessed of an unflinchingly melancholy quality, complete with shades of deep blue and shadowy darkness that creates a bleaker tone to refract the stereotypical elements of a romantic relationship through its prism and transform these elements into something totally inventive and fresh.
Unlike Nicholas Sparks and his shallow, overly pretentious romance stories like The Notebook and Dear John that seek to excessively sentimentalize rather than realistically display love (and all the while wooing multitudes of audiences who mindlessly perceive his tales as realistic), Blue Valentine never attempts to sugarcoat the image of relationships, instead giving us the real picture. In it, working class family Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), along with their young daughter, undergo some sour times intertwined with overt hostility, impatience, alcoholism, and quiet disconnection. Both Gosling and Williams portray a very human sense of fragility in their faltering marriage, so much so that their characters are eerily believable. In a winning cinematic formula, Cianfrance contrasts the slow death of Dean and Cindy’s marriage with the goofy, lighthearted creation of their love, complete with a youthful Gosling and Williams to create a nostalgic sense of past exuberance (the present-day couple puts on an aged appearance).
Now this cinematic blueprint doesn’t suggest that Cianfrance regresses into the gimmickry of (500) Days of Summer or Nicholas Sparks. The heavy mood and powerful performances of Gosling and Williams evokes an authentic sense of loss while the film intercuts with the scenes of the early bloom of love and the hurtling present-day destruction of it. By interspersing the flashbacks at some of the heaviest scenes of the film – heated arguments, a misunderstanding at a grocery store, an attempt to rekindle the marriage at a cheesy love hotel – the juxtaposition grows increasingly potent and touching. The honesty and careful sentimentality keep the film balanced and centered on the emotional core of Gosling and Williams’s fantastic performances that often convey their genius through subtlety rather than ’s artificiality and exaggerated human emotion. As the present-day marriage slowly slips away, the reflective flashbacks preserve the inherent beauty of the film regardless of the detachment and internal longing of the present, turning these moments into a sort of slideshow of farewell lamentations.
Come time for the flashbacks, the foreboding desolation of the present-day transforms into happier times as younger Gosling tries to woo younger Williams with his sincerity and goofy, laid-back style. And rather than resorting to scripted line-reading, a lot of the dialogue is improvised, including one brilliant flashback where the pair wander at night. In a fitting way, the subjects of the film, as well as the actors themselves, get to know each other during the filming of that scene. In turn, the director’s choice of filming style also solidifies the bravura of his back-and-forth juxtaposition: the flashbacks are saturated with nostalgic 16mm film and the present-day couple is filmed in a grim and flat digital video. But what really strengthens the impact of the film is simply the pair of leading performances. Both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams rise to prominence here, showcasing their particular knack for visual believability. Dean’s simple pronouncement, “I’m just tired,” summarizes Gosling’s present-day performance, outshining Williams a bit in his frustration over failing to stay rooted in the hopefulness of the past. He avoids adult conversations because he knows it leads to fights, though his childlike disposition doesn’t fit with Cindy’s maturing qualities. Dean’s infantile regressions, depicted through forced perspective (extended scenes of him bonding with his little daughter, fooling around, acting up like a kid), have an unexpectedly stirring quality of a man tormented by years of pent-up frustration over a gradually declining marriage. I’m even taken aback by the sheer fact that Ryan Gosling has grown up so much as an actor… I mean he was in The Notebook! Compared to that movie, his role here is leagues more authentic and straightforwardly affecting in its close-to-home feel and resonant bleakness.
Michelle Williams’s portrayal of Cindy balances the fondness of nostalgia and the immediate realization of aging. Small touches like personal appearance – Cindy wears her hair up in the present, down in the flashbacks – add immeasurably to the tone of the film, conveying the lapse in the couple’s love for one another while maintaining universally relatable ideas and experiences. Present-day Cindy is grown-up and mature, tackling a job as a nurse and feeling estranged from Dean’s alcoholism and penchant for quick irritation. In an emotionally naked performance, Michelle Williams deftly conjures an achingly credible tone of antagonism and frustration when she slowly vacates herself from the presence of Dean, staying overnight at her parents’ house rather than undergoing frustrating nights with him. Here, haggard and stressed facial expressions convey a sense of emotional withdrawal that establishes her disconnected temperament as well as her personal familiarity with Dean.
In an attempt to repair the shaky marriage, Dean tries to woo Cindy by booking a night at a love motel. Yet his re-coaxing of Cindy to fall in love with him once again provokes cognitive dissonance after a seemingly successful endeavor (they laugh, they dance, they make love, they talk like a normal couple, they bond as equals), as they both know that their relationship has already gone beyond restoration. The dark, damaging present-day quickly changes hands once again and flashes back to the past. In fact, the juxtaposition throughout the film actually accelerates as the present-day marriage deteriorates even faster, going hand-in-hand with the quickly accelerating young love as both timelines edge faster and faster to their individual climaxes. The effect is simultaneously wonderful and tragic, with seconds’ worth of scene and then a quick cut to disorient the audience’s own emotional balance.
Still, the flashbacks to the very onset of love feed the pained core of Blue Valentine’s narrative, since the audience knows that the relationship is doomed in the distant future. The film seemingly argues that there’s no such thing as true love, and that life simply happens no matter how long and deep a love is. During the flashbacks, both Dean and Cindy turn to elders for advice on love. After consulting his fellow co-workers at the moving company he works for, he concludes that women “spend their whole life looking for Prince Charming and then they marry the guy who’s got a good job and is gonna stick around,” pretty much denouncing the superficial notion of love he portrayed in The Notebook. Concurrently, the advice that Cindy receives from her mother discourages her own views on true love, since her mother answers “I don't think I found it” when it comes to love and acknowledges her own rift between her and her husband. Cindy’s ultimate question, “How can you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?” leads the film down its exploration of personal reveries and dark, transcendent echoes of alienation. The concept of love, laid bare and dissected under the strict scrutiny of the characters, distances the otherwise charming and goofy youth of both protagonists with the hard-boiled realism of…reality.
It’s also worth noting that the bluesy tone throughout the film (hence the title?) is held with enough permanence to create an unexpected alchemy that obscures every notion of true love and lasting happiness. Dean’s melancholy ukulele song, which has become a sort of unofficial theme to the film, cleverly pronounces the film’s analysis on the nature of lasting relationships: “You always hurt the one you love. The one you shouldn’t hurt at all. So if I broke your heart last night, It's because I love you most of all…” So despite the pessimistic view on shallow surface views on love, the overall themes at play in Blue Valentine are namely the random associations between fate, love, life, and continuity. Against the backdrop of domestic dissatisfaction, the degradation of love over time is an elegant expression on the random nature of human attachment. Blue Valentine begs the question, is there any other kind of love besides this? By rejecting the “Prince Charming” notion of human interaction, the film never errs on the side of the overly sentimental and instead makes its mark on the relationship that synchronously folds in on itself and begins afresh (via flashback).
During the bittersweet moments of the love hotel and Dean’s attempt to rekindle the marriage, a record of Penny and the Quarters’s “You and Me” plays in the background. It’s a fairly sad scene in and of itself, but the scene achieves real resonance during a flashback when the film beautifully explains the song’s significance. As seductive as the back-and-forth between past and present may be, one always finds that the characters are the most important aspect in developing Blue Valentine’s ideas. Flashbacks with Dean and Cindy placed side by side with the depressing, haggard present feel as if the two timelines have protagonists played by different actors altogether. Cianfrance’s careful construction of the two timelines measures the strength of the film’s central narrative of both sides of romance, handling the tough plot design beautifully and gracefully.
The abstraction that both Gosling and Williams provide their characters supplies Dean and Cindy an air of convincingly multifaceted and conflicting personalities. It’s hard to pinpoint the ultimate source for the relationship’s failure, and instead Cianfrance retreats into the gloomy gravitas of the present-day situation. Blue Valentine’s matchless visual realism creates an impressive combination with indie rock band Grizzly Bear’s ethereal score. The effect of the moody, ambient psychedelia recalls the turbulent result of clashing emotions and confined disconnection.
Finally, the explosive (literally) closing shots of Blue Valentine express the film’s deeply felt outlooks on human love. Fireworks are shown with brief images of the couple appearing with each explosion, suggesting the idea of love as synonymous with the lifespan of a firework. There’s an initial spark, a climactic and explosive burst of energy, and a gradual fading away to black. During these shots, there’s an obvious yearning for the impossible intimacy for the two characters, but the film ultimately acknowledges that the appeal of love comes from the recognition of its own limits and the eventual enjoyment of individual moments and the pursuit of happiness despite this flaw. This conclusion speaks volumes.
Video Feature: January 2011 Releases
January...movies are coming out.
Blue Valentine Trailer
This tale of romance between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams got huge buzz at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
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