In good times and bad, their emotions are raw and real.
Blue Valentine is an ordeal. This is not because it isn't a good movie; it is. And it's not because the actors don't deliver; they do. The problem is that Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are so relentlessly authentic, so without artifice, that we recognize quickly that their characters' marriage won't survive. In good times and bad, their emotions are raw and real. These are two fine actors breathing reality into two ordinary people leading ordinary lives.
With a depressing story in hand, Director Derek Cianfrance intercuts the couple's joyful memories with the dismal in order to spare us uninterrupted gloom. He begins with a warning in scene one. By the time this family finishes breakfast, we have seen all the signs of dead affection. The movie is the story of how this happened.
Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) fall in love in a wonderful scene where he, in his self-confessed bad voice sings "You Always Hurt the One You Love" while strumming his ukulele. He plays, she dances - in a street alcove, no less, and it's full of innocent charm. They marry; daughter Frankie is born. As in many deteriorating marriages, the early signals might possibly be put right, but when the big divisions surface, we in the audience want to tell them, "It's time, people, to call it quits."
Beneath the early magnetism lies the thorny question of their dreams. Cindy is working in the hospital and going to school while thinking about becoming either an accomplished nurse or perhaps a doctor. She loves her family but is always leaning forward toward the future. Dean, on the other hand, stands firmly planted in the present. For him, work is simply the means of supporting the wife and child he loves. He works hard as a moving man and house painter and is perfectly happy with things as they are. For Cindy, Dean can sing and draw and dance and dabble, but isn't there something among all his talents that he really wants to do? She's a builder; he isn't.
As the marriage unravels, everything becomes a problem. When Dean takes his reluctant wife to a motel in an attempt to heal, even the sex they once so enjoyed has become, for her, resignation. When he follows her into the shower, it has become an intrusion. Their way of interacting so playfully has turned stale.
Williams and Gosling are marvelous at portraying both the early joy and the later frost. They are both outstandingly good at conveying the everyday life and conversation of two real and regular people. By the time Williams' Cindy says "I can't do this anymore," we understand that Gosling's Dean just doesn't have the emotional tools to correct course. But director Cianfrance doesn't leave us there. He beams us out on the charm of the ukulele scene, the one that makes us realize we care enough about them to wish they had found a way.
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