AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | November 13, 2010
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Writer(s): Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne
Starring: Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling, Mike Vogel, John Doman
Blue Valentine toggles back and forth from the blooming of Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean’s (Ryan Gosling) relationship to its apparent ending. (A similar yet different enough take on relationships from Francois Ozon’s 5×2 and Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer.) The early days of their relationship are presented in flashback via richly saturated 16mm film while their later days (the present) are shot in digital – the effect is a brilliant juxtaposition between their gleeful beginning and ugly conclusion.
Dean first sees Cindy in an old folks’ home – she is visiting her grandmother, he is moving a customer’s belongings into a room across the hall. For Dean, it is clearly an instance of love at first sight, but it takes a while for the angelic Cindy to warm up to the working class punk clad in a hoodie. Cindy and Dean are wide-eyed and naïve youths residing in New York City, brimming with unbridled excitement for life. Cindy – the more studious of the two – aspires to attend medical school and escape the fiscal trappings of her family’s lower middle class existence, while Dean wants to enjoy life and seems perfectly content with his lower class lifestyle, getting by with his modest yet hard-earned income working for a moving company. You might say that Cindy lives for the future and Dean for the present.
The unabashed romantic, Dean eventually wins Cindy’s heart during one key romantic scene in which Cindy tap dances while Dean plays the ukulele and croons in a silly voice. During this pivotal moment in their lives together, they appear to become helplessly enchanted with each other. But when the scene in which Dean proposes marriage to Cindy is eventually revealed, we can only wonder if they merely confuse love with what was really an act of kindness for one and of desperation for the other; nonetheless, it becomes abundantly clear that neither Cindy nor Dean want to get married at this juncture in their lives, they only do so because they each feel as if they have no other option.
In the present, we spend a couple days with Cindy and Dean. Now burdened with the mortgage of their rural Pennsylvania home, we see two people who might love each other if it was not for their total communication breakdown. Dean is a house painter, an occupation that allows him the opportunity to begin his day with a beer while also granting him ample family (or at least father-daughter) time. (Dean proudly proclaims that his greatest aspiration in life is to love and spend quality time with his wife and daughter.) The elapsed time from when he initially met Cindy has not been kind to Dean, as his severely thinning hair accents his drunken and ragged white-trash persona. Dean, still a hopeless romantic and a free spirit with an unabashed love for life (which at this stage in his life can easily be interpreted – especially by Cindy – as being immature and irresponsible), has developed anger management and substance abuse issues that could be attributed to his frustration with Cindy’s attitude towards him. Cindy, whom time has ravaged more kindly, has become a nurse and at least on the surface appears to be the more stable of the pair. As the obvious breadwinner of the family, Cindy is frustrated that Dean does not contribute more to their financial stability; she seems scared that she might be stuck in lower middle class hell forever, while Dean is perfectly content with their house and car and child and dog.
Blue Valentine plays with the dualities of Cindy and Dean’s past and present – youthful-turned-worn out, loving-turned-emotionless, optimistic-turned-tragic – to tug at the chords of our emotional core. Writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s unflinching camera’s eye is unyieldingly penetrating throughout the good times and the bad, yet he carefully avoids any overt explanations of the disintegration of Cindy and Dean’s relationship. The audience is merely presented the raw data to consume and interpret according to their own romantic histories (thus your interpretation is likely to be different than mine).
The story is conveyed with a flawless authenticity and rawness that is impossible to ignore, and thus the emotionally tumultuous Blue Valentine is guaranteed to rip the insides out of even the most romantically ambivalent. Gosling and Williams – in my humble opinion, two of the best actors of their age group – lend transforming and heart-wrenching performances that will surely warrant them both Oscar nominations for best actor and actress.
One of the best acted films of 2010, Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine has been bitch-slapped with a baffling NC-17 rating from the MPAA purportedly because of an (obviously simulated) oral sex scene – which is by no means graphic and contains no visible nudity – during which Williams acts out an orgasm. Dearest MPAA – your purely puritanical (if not, tyrannical and maniacal) ways seem to be suggesting that implied oral sex is more evil than all of the gratuitously graphic violence that you deem to be worthy of a mere R rating. What is wrong with this picture?