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Movie Review: ‘Blue Valentine’

January 28, 2011
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The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.–Elie Wiesel

The true meaning of that quote is fully realized in this haunting anti-love story. Blue Valentine is a stark, quiet film that packs an emotional punch you won’t soon forget. Featuring terrific performances by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, the film examines the demise of a once promising relationship.

As the movie starts out, it is obvious that Cindy (Williams) and Dean (Gosling) have seen happier days.  Cindy seems to be quietly simmering with hatred when she interacts with Dean.  She’s utterly defeated, and when Dean tries to use his boyish charm to engage her, she won’t succumb.  Cindy mentally checked out of the marriage long, long ago. By the time Dean actually realizes that, we see him make some feeble attempts to salvage what they once had.

Dean convinces Cindy to go spend the night at a themed-room hotel.  She reluctantly agrees, probably out of a misplaced sense of obligation. Despite Dean’s good intentions, the evening turns into a complete disaster that seals the final fate on their marriage.

How did they get to this dark place?  The two come prepared with a virtual stockpile of booze. It appears that Cindy gulps hers down just to tolerate being in Dean’s presence, as if the thought of being intimate with him makes her skin crawl.

In contrast, we see the two when they first met.  They were passionately crazy about one another. Cindy had aspirations to study medicine, and Dean’s blue collar background didn’t seem to bother her at the time. Trouble is, he’s never evolved in the relationship. He’s happily content to do odd jobs, and thinks that it is spectacular that he can drink beer at 8 in the morning. Cindy doesn’t find his laid-back demeanor so cute now.

It’s a wholly realistic look at a relationship that has unraveled slowly but surely over the years. Over the course of the evening, we find out exactly how they got to this breaking point, and unfortunately it is a story that is all too common. The only reason Cindy has stayed this long is because of their daughter.

Director Derek Cianfrance carefully constructs the film as an objective look at a crumbling marriage. Neither partner is without blame, although it is easier to feel sympathetic for Dean, because he is somewhat blindsided by the severity of their problems.  Gosling is the perfect actor to convey Dean’s anguish.

Cianfrance makes good use of limited set pieces.  The scenes in the hotel room (a garish future themed room bathed in silvers and blues) have an ethereal quality.  They are particularly jarring because of the weird hotel-room lighting and decor. A soundtrack by Grizzly Bear complements the tone of the movie.

This is a superb character study that has been lovingly put together by Cianfrance, who wrestled with his own personal demons while co-writing the film.  Williams has been nominated for an Oscar for her performance.  It’s not an easy (or fun) film to watch, but it is very, very good.

Rating 4.5/5  Directed by Derek Cianfrance. Written by Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis. Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

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