BLUE VALENTINE


Dir. Derek Cianfrance. USA. 2010.


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Director, Cianfrance, has taken a long while to get his screenplay to the screen - supposedly nine years from treatment to production; what has to be asked is why did theoretically a two-hander between the man, Dean (Ryan Gosling) and wife, Cindy (Michelle Williams) take so long to get to the screen.  The dual narrative tells the story of a breakdown of a marriage, whilst also showing how they came together in the first place.

This narrative of a breakdown of a marriage due to an overblown ego of a male and a derailment of romance has been seen previously in American independence cinema and is a familiar trope to be executed, most notably by John Cassavettes' Faces and most recently in Francois Ozon's memorable 5x2, which showed the breakdown of a marriage in chronological order but in reverse - starting in the divorce lawyer's office and ending with the meet cute.

On this occasion we start with the couple with their child and then sending child to grandfather to indulge in a romantic getaway at a fleabag themed hotel, ironically they choose the 'Future Room' which is exactly what they do not have by journey's end.  This narrative is interrupted by flashbacks to the time when they first encountered each other, the meet cute and personal dilemmas involved once Cindy becomes pregnant with someone else's baby.

      After she refuses an abortion, Dean offers to be a father to a child that is not his and husband in a new family.  The film shows them 6-8 years after this life-changing decison and the effect it has had on Dean is startling; a shadow of his younger, viral self with a receding hairline and alcohol addiction, which is alluded throughout the film and admonished by the film's chronological end.

This is a bold and brave piece of filmmaking, especially by the two leads who helped with the film's flow in terms of improvising dialogue but at times some scenes come across a little too self-indulgent, such as when Dean serenades Cindy with a solo ukelele performance with a high voice as she dances in a doorway; whilst this is romantic, could the flashback just be too indicative of how perfect it all was back then and perhaps too sentimental to punch the message home.

Cindy wants to be a doctor but ends up as a nurse who is hit upon by her new boss, another example of a man in this film who is a douchebag. Most of the men in this film are douchebags, especially Dean who at times is both irritating and selfish, as is Bobby (the man who impregnated Cindy), a boy all full of testosterone.  And Dean could be a renaissance man, but puts his idea of virtue above providing financial stability for his family by becoming a house painter.

Interestingly, the scene where Cindy bumps into her child's father, Bobby (Mike Vogel) in a liquor store is a weird scene but played perfectly by Williams - her eyes lighting up at meeting an old flame with excitement burning in her heart for the first time in quite a while.

However, even good production values such as switching of camera style - from handheld video for the contemporary scenes giving it a harsher, grittier quality and then harking back to 16mm for the flashback scenes giving them a warmer, happier tone - cannot save the film from the requirement of a tighter script that on occasions in the modern day scenes pleads for the less is more approach, as Dean repeats another vital line to death.  Sometimes the audience, especially the independent cinema one should be respected enough to get the message straight away.

Not to do a disservice to Williams and Gosling in their performances, whilst Gosling is all brooding and showy with his sunglasses hiding inner turmoil, Williams is brilliant as a young woman whose ambition and drive to be a better person and wife than her own browbeaten mother is shot to pieces by the sheer over-inflated ego of her husband.  But it is these two performances from two esteemed actors of their generation that raises this film above from passable to watchable.

Released on May 9th 2011 by Optimum Entertainment on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Jamie Garwood

 
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