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Blue Valentine: A Review

January 23, 2011 By: nooccar Category: Movies, Reviews

Driving to Blue Valentine tonight I felt this anticipated nervousness. See, I was alone, going to an Art Theatre at night, and knew this would be heavy drama. I’d watched Gosling’s Half Nelson when it was garnering Oscar attention in 2006, and I knew that if this film came close to that amount of pain then I’d walk out afterward awkward and exhausted. I almost expected it, but pleasantly, that didn’t quite happen. It’s not that the film wasn’t heavy drama (because it was) nor was it overly dramatic (it sure did hit close to home as a married couple struggling to live with a young daughter, but the film was done well.

Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams

The movie chronicled the relationship of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) cutting between their initial meeting and their sadly married lives five years later. I know Gosling mostly from his art house films (others can’t divorce him from his work in The Notebook as Noah, the main love interest pining away for the girl), and he does not disappoint as Dean who begins his relationship as a high school dropout, idealistic full time blue-collared worker. In the later cuts in their relationship he’s gone from a young, handsome man with a full head of hair, good eye sight, and a quick smile for everyone to later in life when we see him as a painter, with heavy glasses and a receding hairline. The glasses work very well for his character, and he uses them to hide behind as a hurt man trying to win back the love of a woman no longer interested. His hairline leaves the audience imagining him literally pulling his hair from his head every night trying to find ways to relive that early spark that has left with his easy smile.

The film opens with him carrying the young daughter, Frankie, outside to locate their beloved family dog who Cindy finds along side the road having been hit by a car. Frankie is shipped off to Grandpa’s so mom and dad can bury the dog, and it’s evident that the death of the carefree family pet sets a tone for the film and decline of the relationship between these two trapped people. See, Cindy had potential. We see her taking care of her grandmother and trying to not jump when her father yells across the dinner table at her mother (a mother who later in the film is unexplainably absent –I assume dead).

SPOILER AHEAD

Cindy wants to be a doctor, but before she met Dean she was in another relationship and had unprotected sex (against her better judgment and with a man she quickly ejected from her life). Dean woos her in his own quirky way with a night walk about in a nondescript town that suggested middle Pennsylvania (but was actually filmed in New York) where he plays for her the title song (which surprisingly has it’s own hype since no one in Hollywood can find its origins).

The film cuts between this new romance and the morass of late marriage; the camera uses warm, golden colors to demonstrate the heat of attraction early on while the late marriage shots have a cool, cadaverous blue tint. I was almost relieved when Frankie was ejected through the middle of the film but quickly I felt almost embarrassed as Dean attempted to solve his marital woes. See, he’s a good man. He works hard and claims that he only wants to put food on the table and hang out with his girls. What’s wrong with that? For Cindy, a lot. She’s fallen out of love with him, and Cianfrance (the director) doesn’t try to explain it away; he just lets it marinate. Dean’s not a fighter; he has a temper. He argues that he’s a good husband because he never hit(s) her (and I find it ironic that his nonaction causes her to physically hit him at the climax of this enigmatic anger) and somewhere Cindy regrets getting pregnant and not going to medical school.

Ryan Gosling

The sharp angles and close cropped shots in the film clearly demonstrate the caged, hopelessness of the marriage. Dean fights so hard for what he knows is right and, frustratingly, he only makes it that much worse. When Frankie reemerges at the conclusion of the narrative, my heart goes out to this man who is so good with her–a man who is forced to walk away towards a firework celebration exploding above the concluding camera shots; Cindy holding Frankie back near her own father’s house while Dean’s forced to walk into the distance. A question of future hopelessness or the inevitability of the dual nature of people and how the treat each other.

Update: Ok, I’ve had 18 hours to think about this film, and I’m annoyed. Dean never hits Cindy; he’s a good dad. He works hard for his family. She falls out of love. It’s heart wrenching especially given that he doesn’t seem to be blamed. He tries. He rents a room (with a gift certificate they have) at a motel where the only room left is the themed “future” room (that reminds me of the offspring of hotel room in Hotdog and all of the Star Trek movies put together. There he tries to reinvigorate their physical relationship where we see Cindy accept his advances; when he realizes that she’s given just her body, he stops. They both pass out drunk and in the early morning she is called off to work. She leaves him there, and the audience is given no explanation. He needs to find his own way home (two hours away). The theme of the hotel room, the “future”, is apropos, and there’s no way that escaped Cianfrance’s camera. I wish Dean ran back for Frankie, and I’m frustrated he didn’t. But that ending wouldn’t’ve worked. The hopelessness of love would’ve been lost in the abuse of a failed future.


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