Though the MPAA created quite a media stir by initially branding Derek Cianfrance’s drama Blue Valentine with the dreaded NC-17 rating, there is hardly anything sexy about the film. Yes, sex is present, as is love, a chiseled Ryan Gosling, and a sunshiny-in-flashbacks Michelle Williams. But as the sequence winds back and forth between simpler and chipper early days and the present-day, where Gosling’s hairline is receding and Williams’ sunshine is lost, Blue Valentine‘s true colors can’t be ignored. It’s not a love story per se. Rather, it’s a story about how or why love goes out the window, and this fictional yet very real picture deconstructs the relationship between one married couple over a course of time to attempt to solve that mystery. There actually is no real answer, and we are only left to believe that one thing for certain is that falling out of love is always a possible reality, yet is more complex than falling in love in the first place. Blue Valentine only deserves a harsh rating for being brutally honest about a deteriorating relationship—and breaking the hearts of those witnessing the crumbling to the ground.
Gosling and Williams’ characters appear to come from opposite sides of the track in the East Coast. The film opens with scenes of their current life at home: Dean (Gosling) doesn’t mind his job of painting houses, which allows him to drink at 8 a.m. and sit lazily and smoke on the couch. Meanwhile, Cindy (Williams) is living her dream of being in the medical field, though as a nurse and not as a doctor as she had planned. One can already sense the tension due to the differing lifestyles—he being carefree and she being straight-laced and stressed out—as they prepare and eat breakfast, though they both share a love for their young daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka). After a family tragedy, Dean takes Cindy out to spend a night out-of-town at a cheesy theme motel room, hoping to rekindle the flames between them. As they attempt to be amorous again, the film cross-cuts to scenes starting from six years back. It is revealed that they meet by chance, that Dean was a little-formally-educated man working as a mover and that Cindy was a college undergrad with a pushy wrestler boyfriend. They reach a turning point pretty soon after their more thorough second meeting, in the incredibly tender and poignant scene in the theatrical trailer where Dean sings badly and plays ukulele on “You Always Hurt the One You Love” while Cindy goofily dances. It’s demonstrative that Dean had a heart full of love for Cindy, and that Cindy was naturally lively or that maybe Dean somehow brought out that side of her. Such scenes of romantic harmony between the two compared to the present days of dullness, anger, and sometimes the unspeakable show the shift of gravity in the couple’s relationship over the years.
Cianfrance’s shooting style is shaky and often looks without physical support, but for this kind of gritty drama, it’s a significant and important element. It makes it intimate and even more believable that we are experiencing the relationship unraveling as if through the characters’ eyes. Additionally, the performances by Gosling and Williams tear at the core. Their pre-devastation younger forms are natural and appear to be like any 23-28 year-old you’d most likely come across in everyday life. In his thirties in the present-day, Gosling effortlessly plays off Dean as a big kid in father-daughter moments, as well as in his interactions with Cindy at times, much to her annoyance. Present-day Cindy appears to be closed-off and silently flustered, only shrugging Dean off until it is absolutely necessary to loudly and angrily confront him at a pivotal scene near the end. Dean is still a big kid even when he turns into a very angry older man, often throwing big kid-style temper tantrums at Cindy until she breaks him down and he shows that he’s desperate and vulnerable. The two fairly young actors go way beyond their years in these roles, completely opening their hearts and baring their souls as the growing-in-life but falling-out-of-love couple. They make this portrait raw and flesh-colored. And as far as the flesh (Though no pun intended), if you know what I mean, the controversial sex scenes are not all for show, but are necessary to show just how sour the marriage has become. They’re angsty and hard-to-watch due to the painful emotions expressed, not because of what anatomy is or isn’t shown (Not that much, by the way).
Blue Valentine constructs an incredibly detailed narrative about the deconstruction of a marriage. Even the love story within the story isn’t without hurt and obstacles, and this is one creation from Hollywood that sheds light on that honest truth. It is sad truth that is this film. It serves as proof that things do change, but love isn’t immune to it either—even not for better, but for worse.
OVERALL SCORE: 9/10