January 05, 2011

MOVIES: Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

Blue Valentine is the story of a disintegrating marraige. We follow Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) through the last few days of their relationship, periodically jumping back in time to the early days -- their meeting, rapid courtship, and marriage.

Director Derek Cianfrance doesn't mark those time jumps with "five years earlier" labels, and it sometimes takes a moment to register that we've switched time frames. (If Gosling is in the scene, his hairline is your biggest cue; Dean's going bald very quickly.)

Those "oh, have we changed periods?" moments are, I think, important. It's not as if either Dean or Cindy is a dramatically different person at the end of the story than they are at the beginning. The traits that drew them together -- his impulsiveness and sense of romance, her stoic practicality and determination -- are still there at the end, and they've become the things that each struggles to put up with in the other.

The bigger problem is that they've never learned to talk to one another; their marriage happened so quickly (for a variety of reasons) that all they really had going for them was the heady rush of first love/lust; once that fades, they have no idea how to communicate. Dean tries harder than Cindy does, I think; the movie's biggest weakness is a slight lack of evenhandedness in the way it presents the characters, making Cindy the villain.

The two central performances are both excellent, and we should be hearing more about them in this run-up to awards season than we are. Blue Valentine isn't a cheerful movie -- even the young love sequences don't have a lot of humor to them -- but its emotional precision is impressive, and it's definitely worth seeing.

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