Simply put, Blue Valentine is not an easy movie to watch. The film is a laborious display of a marriage from inception to downfall, and feels painfully realistic. Director Derek Cianfrance does the task of showing matrimony in the least synthetic and sentimental way possible, aided by the film’s doomed couple, played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
The film succeeds mainly because of its raw performances. If any pair of actors in a 2010 film has chemistry, it has to be Gosling and Williams. Gosling is Dean, an irresponsible but loving husband who constantly uses desperate methods to try to repair his marriage, while Williams is Cindy, a tired wife who knows that she is falling out of love with her spouse. Not only does each actor give an independently tremendous performance, the raw honesty brought to screen fizzles like baking soda and vinegar. When the doomed pair falls in love, you believe it; when things go downhill for them, you feel it with them. Neither puts a single toe out of step with his/her character’s personality, bringing about two of the most dedicated acting turns of the past few years.
Realistic dialogue contributes to the movie’s power. Most of the conversations between characters feel improvised, with an emphasis on naturalism that elicits believable emotions. Despite having a slight “indie” vibe, the film is never tacky, and rarely resorts to quirk. Additionally, its structure is well edited; flashbacks are appropriately timed to correspond with current situations. The usage of cutting directly from abysmal marriage problems to happy courtship flashbacks makes the couple’s falling out profound and heart-wrenching.
Cianfrance does not chicken out by setting his film in a mainstream mold; rather, he uses totally depressing scenarios in service of tasteful cinema. The movie might as well be titled Black Valentine, as its somber tone may leave viewers cold inside. Nevertheless, the director still manages to make his project a delicate cautionary tale, rather than an exercise in cruelty. This is not torture porn; it is high art.
The only fault to bestow upon this extremely well-crafted movie is that it runs too long. There are several scenes near the end which are (done purposely or not) false endings. Because the story’s outcome is so bleakly obvious, less exposition and closure may have suited the film better. Nevertheless, perhaps the additional run-time is fitting for a picture as emotionally draining as this. Deep down, I would like to believe that Cianfrance was trying to make the audience experience the same tedium his characters feel. The film’s final shot is artfully melancholic, allowing the ending to be beautiful and sad, rather than just weakly fizzling out.
Blue Valentine is a film that most will probably respect more than they enjoy. Derek Cianfrance presents a bold, uncompromising vision of a dying relationship, brought to life by two wonderful performances. It is beautifully acted, directed and edited, and manages to be extremely watchable, despite pulling no punches. Certain scenes will reach into your chest and tear your heart out, an indication of a wholly effective drama.