Not so much a story as a study of a relationship, Blue Valentine, directed by Derek Cianfrance (who bears a certain likeness to Ryan Gosling) excels in the powerful performances by its two stars–Michelle Williams, who received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role in the film, and Gosling, whose fluid, heart-wrenching performance was ignored by the Academy.
There are little pieces of magic throughout the movie–including several scenes between Dean (Gosling), and his daughter Frankie, played convincingly by seven-year-old Faith Wyladyka. (Some of their moments together seem entirely unscripted.) But it is the scenes chronicling some of the early days of the relationship between Cindy and Dean that are the most touching. Little moments shown through glances, dialogue, and touch that evoke that inimitable freshness and abandon of love in bloom, where the attraction and connection are so all-encompassing that everything around it fades into a hazy and nearly non-existent backdrop. One of these scenes is featured in the trailer for the film. Cindy and Dean are slightly drunk and cutting up by the entrance of a store–he’s playing his banjo and singing “goofy” to her, while she dances to the song. She’s giddy and happy, taking his direction as he sings his love song to her. Aptly enough, the song is “You Always Hurt the One You Love.”
Blue Valentine is mostly about the disintegration of relationship told through a collage of scenes depicting then and now. It could be called, Scenes from A Marriage, but in spite of moments that are near-perfect in their holding a mirror to reality, Blue Valentine lacks the psychological depth of Bergman’s film.
That said, many of the scenes so starkly depict the sadness and desperation of Dean and Cindy, that you wish you had the power to change things for these two people who seem to have made a wrong turn and can’t find their way back home. You find fault with one and then the other, and then neither one. Two people who evolve in ways that shouldn’t be a surprise to either of one of them, but somehow have become the sources of contention, resentment, and desperation. But as we observe their past and their present–zig-zagged before us, we also find ourselves wondering how exactly they got to where they are now and why they can’t get past it.
When Dean and Cindy spend a night in a sex motel, it becomes a metaphor for their relationship. It’s a gritty place, where they drink, they talk, and what transpires between them can as easily go in one direction as the other. Clearly at a stage when things are falling apart, we see images/scenes depicting the sweetness of what used to be crosscut with the present.
Blue Valentine is overloaded with interspersing scenes that illustrate the character’s state of mind or situation as it contrasts with an earlier one. In the “Future Room” at the sex motel. Cindy is on the floor, and Dean, urging her to give in to his sexual advances, reminds her that he’s been good to her and deserves his attention. When she continues to resist, even revealing disgust, he asks if she wants to be slapped. And she says yes. And we jump to a night where there is another kind of slapping. It’s in the early days of their relationship, when drunk and silly, they slap and make love on the sidewalk. Then we jump back again to the motel. It’s a heart-wrenching scene, where Cindy is at once disengaged and engaged, and Dean is desperately trying to bring them back to something in a “fantasy” room that feels wrong from the get-go. If anything, the fantasy room brings them to the stark reality of where they are. And the fantasy room is in the ‘blue’ realm, harking back to terms like “blue movies.”
The frequent zig-zagging in Blue Valentine between then and now is often distracting, even annoying. Especially when you want to latch onto something for continuity. And just when you get interested and want the story to go further in that direction, you’re catapulted forwards or backwards in time.
There’s something about Blue Valentine that feels unfinished, unresolved. It leaves off as if in the middle of a chord. You exit the theater wanting something more than what you got, or maybe something other than what was given. Something perhaps the characters didn’t tell you or that the director didn’t let you see, because again–it wasn’t a story, it was a study.
Blue Valentine– not the pretty red and pink ones we associate with Valentine’s Day. It’s a sad and blue one, where memories of younger days of love and happiness are weighted down with sadness and desperation. Where yesterday’s Valentines sing the blues. . .
When she’s not writing, you’ll find Francine swimming, hiking, practicing yoga, and an assortment of other activities to keep her out of trouble–most recently creating an app, vinOrganica California, a guide to wineries in California that use organic grapes. It’s available on the iTunes store, and you can learn more about it at www.vinorganica.com.