Jan 10, 2011

Movie Review #6 - Blue Valentine (2010)

"You said for better or worse. (...) Now this is my worst"
Two nights ago, I managed to get my brother and some of our friends to come along to go see the critically-acclaimed indie "love story" Blue Valentine. I had been looking forward to seeing it ever since its trailer was released. With the controversy surrounding this movie's initial NC-17 rating in the US (and the headlines it made after winning the appeal for an R rating), I was even more excited to see this movie. The day it got its limited release in the US, I thought for sure that it would be playing in some Toronto theater. But in reality, I had to wait over a week until I could see it in the ONLY Toronto theater screening it. Of course, when we rushed to the 7:30PM showing and arrived more than 15 minutes early, the enormous theater was already packed. It just comes to show how many cinephiles reside in the Toronto area. We were worried about getting in, since the movie had an 18A rating and none of us were 18. To our great surprise, they let us in without any hesitation. And I am so glad they did!
Blue Valentine is a tough, honest story about the bumpy relationship of a young married couple. Unconventional and nonlinear, the movie mainly jumps between two different time periods; At first, we are introduced to Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) as they raise their young daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka). They both look very weary, and we can sense a great distance between them. However, they haven't yet lost hope. They are both somewhat willing to restore the love they once had. The other time period consists of their love connection from the first instance they lay eyes on one another to the moment they say "I do" at their wedding. Though there is a heavy amount of love and romance in this film, it chooses to focus more on the pain and suffering Dean and Cindy experience as individuals, as well as the struggles they meet along the way as a married couple. Debut director Derek Cianfrance sure did put the "blue" in Blue Valentine!

This movie has real guts; it goes where nearly no movie has gone before. Its bold depiction of the contemporary American couple/family is so realistic that it's shocking. It is indeed a reality that nearly half of all the marriages in the US end in divorce, and that many married couples go through painful and shattering situations similar to those presented in the film. Because of its social relevance, I find that this achievement is of great importance, and that everyone (adolescents and adults) should see it. However, this is not for everyone. You might not want to bring your grandmother along, for instance. There are countless sex scenes where a great deal of nudity is shown (which explains the strict ratings). Some people may find the sexual content over-the-top and even pornographic, but in my opinion, it plays a vital role in the character development of Dean and Cindy.

Derek Cianfrance does a great job at co-writing (with Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne) and directing this little gem. The screenplay is outstanding. It's mostly low-key, reflective, and sad, but there is still-- like every drama-- a tiny hint of comedy. With its minimal, naturally flowing dialogue, the movie is comparable to sleepers like Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. Like the latter, what makes Blue Valentine so special is that ephemeral intimacy between the main characters. The movie also has a very nice "indie appeal"-- it's visually artistic and immersive, while it conserves the low-budget "mumblecore" look.


Both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams offer OUTSTANDING, emotionally-charged performances! In all honesty, I don't know which one I liked more. Ryan Gosling is a very talented young actor, and while watching Blue Valentine, I was blown away and I kept on thinking "Wow, the man can act!". Not only is he believable as a husband, but he also fits the role as a father. He can be passionate and romantic with Cindy, just as he can be loving and sweet with his little Frankie. He believes that by being somebody's husband and somebody's father, his life is fulfilled. In contrast, Cindy believes in having a great amount of ambition and many goals in life. She thinks that he has so much potential and so many talents that he could put to other use (instead of being a simple blue-collar man). Michelle Williams captures her character so well, struggling to understand the meaning of love, her identity, and her dreams. Originally, I saw her as a beautiful mystery. But after getting more in depth with her character, it's clear that she's insecure about many things and truly vulnerable to heartbreak (just like Dean and many of us). For instance, in one particular scene, she has a conversation with her grandmother on the search for true love. It broke my heart.

Blue Valentine is likely to get nominated for many Oscars. However, I made a prediction after seeing it, saying that it would only receive acting nominations for Gosling and Williams, and nothing else. Perhaps the movie itself is just too painfully realistic for the Academy. Who knows. We won't know for sure until January 25th, when the nominations are announced!

If you're looking to be cheered up, please don't go and see this movie. It will only make matters worse for you. This is one of the most depressing and emotionally-draining films I have seen in a long time. I had trouble sleeping after seeing it that night, because I was so involved in my personal reflection. It changed my thoughts on relationships, love, marriage, and even abortion, for better and for worse. It's an odd thing. While this movie left me semi-hopeless, it also opened up many doors of possibility for me. I saw in Dean and in Cindy what they failed to see in one another. From what I interpreted, this movie shows that love is a struggle; just as love has its binding forces, it can also tear two individuals apart. But the problem with today's society is that too many couples give up on it all too quickly. The youthful flames of love soon die down, but it's up to both partners to keep the fire going, and to learn to love and appreciate one another with time. Love and perseverance go hand in hand.

Blue Valentine is a poignant, intelligent, heartbreaking, complex, profound, fascinating, and perceptive insight on a crazy little thing called love. Make time for this work of art, but only if you're in for an emotional storm.