Originally published on the old Cinewise blog on 16th January 2011
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star in this heartbreakingly bleak and poignant tale of two people fiercely falling in and out of love in the lifetime of a young girl. If the trailer have misled you to a Once-like sweet romantic meanderings of two people that are meant to be together, but can’t, then you will be disappointed. If you go by the happy-go-lucky poster where the leads are smooching against a blue sky (not the one shown here), then you will be disappointed too.
Gosling and Williams play Dean and Cindy respectively. He is a stay-at-home husband with “too much potential” but no driving will to realise that potential. He has dedicated his life to be the best father to their 3-year-old daughter Frankie and a devoted, loving husband to Cindy. He enjoys the occasional Bud in the morning and he takes the occasional job of painting other people’s homes.
Cindy is a nurse, a favourite of the doctors and co-workers. Despite a couple of pounds here and there, her looks still pull everyone towards her. She is more inward in expressing her feelings of yearning for another life she may have had had she not ended up with Dean.
Told as part of a contiguous narrative, we are also introduced to the young Dean and Cindy: how they met in the first place, how they fell in love, and how and why they decided to spend their lives together.
How these two people who seem to be truly, madly and deeply in love fell apart is not due to an event during the ensuing three years of marriage or an eroding love – their end was conceived when their commitment began. Dean’s sacrifice hangs over Cindy’s shoulder’s as the guilt she cannot shake off. For Dean, this sacrifice was a turning point in which he finds his true calling in life.
Co-writer / director Derek Cianfrance based the story on his parents’ divorce and from the looks of if what is shown here is bleak, scarring and utterly dazzling. It sucks the very life out of you, drains you from your will to find a glimmer of hope in a series of events that can only end badly.
Not quite as graphically dark as Revolutionary Road (2008) was, nor as verbally abusive and vitriolic as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), this will still leave you grasping for air once the credits roll.
So is it any good then?
Oh yes. Gosling and Williams give incredible performances – he is outwardly expressing everything that goes through his head. There are scenes where he repeats the same question over and over again, oblivious that this incessant repetition will not garner a response from the introverted Williams. Although the sequence in the sex motel (“This is like a robot’s vagina” – an early contender for the line of the year) drags on slightly before a truly uncomfortable scene that shows the true state of their relationship. That was an exceptional piece of acting by Gosling and Williams.
Having said that, there are two other scenes that will stay in the audience’s minds long after the credits roll, both occurring in the past: first is the scene prevalently used in the trailer when Dean plays a song to Cindy “in a goofy voice”, while she tap-dances in front of a tailor’s. Very indie, but a beautiful lump-in-your-throat moment. The second is when Cindy goes to a doctor and reveals secrets from her past. This scene is exceptionally shocking knowing Cindy’s quiet character and her Catholic upbringing in a strictly patriarchal and unhappy environment.
Do not expect to come out with life-affirming, fuzzy feeling in your tummy. Blue Valentine knocks you out and hits you repeatedly when you’re down. But it is a remarkable film nonetheless.