Thursday, May 23, 2024

“BLUE VALENTINE”

THE STORYDean and Cindy live a quiet life in a modest neighborhood. To the casual observer, everything appears normal, if a bit subdued. But a closer examination reveals a couple caught in a downward spiral. They appear to have the world at their feet at the outset of the relationship. However, his lack of ambition and her retreat into self-absorption cause potentially irreversible cracks in their marriage.

THE CASTRyan Gosling & Michelle Williams

THE TEAMDerek Cianfrance (Director/Writer), Joey Curtis & Cami Delavigne (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 112 Minutes


“You always hurt the ones you love,” Dean (Ryan Gosling) sings to Cindy (Michelle Williams) as he strums on a ukulele in Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 drama “Blue Valentine.” Sparks fly as the starry-eyed lovers sing and dance. They fall for each other in a fleeting moment. But, as the story goes, all good things come to an end. In retrospect, the scene fades at the sides like an old photograph. Their honeymoon phase is a soon-to-be valentine of the past, its glitter lost to time. Cindy and Dean’s story becomes a bittersweet reminder of what once was. With time jumps between their past and present, “Blue Valentine” explores the aftermath of a destructive marriage. Anchored by naturalistic performances from Williams and Gosling, Cianfrance puts forth one of the most devastating screen couples in contemporary film.

The disintegration of a marriage can be traced back to the foreground of many films, from Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage” to Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road.” Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” continues in the vein of storytelling that puts you in the eye of the storm, no matter how bad the temperaments. Co-written by Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, and Cami Delavigne, the film focuses on a marriage at a standstill and whether the couple in question can endure long term. The team takes an immersive approach to structuring the evolution of a romantic relationship in which seeds of destruction have been planted. From the improvisational dialogue and lived-in performances to the delicate direction, Cindy and Dean’s spiral into less valentine and more blue feels organic. Much of the authenticity comes from how well the dynamics of this couple are narratively and thematically mapped out.

Through “fly on the wall” observations, the viewer feels privy to the nuances of Cindy and Dean’s relationship, whether in the honeymoon phase or the bluer, somber chapters. The promise of potential and the pain of disillusion can be felt on both sides. Cindy is a nurse who values ambition and a stable foundation. Dean is a once-inspired creative whose ideal day involves painting houses and drinking alcohol. The couple has a three-year-old daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka), whose presence becomes almost an afterthought, given how laser-focused the story is on the marital conflict. Frankie’s best interests are among the many fundamentals on which Cindy and Dean differ.

Through excellent use of flashbacks, “Blue Valentine” explores fragments of how the couple drifted to different paths. The film achieves a spontaneous quality by not showing every single cause and effect of their relationship. From their sudden first meeting to their situational courtship, every new progression feels realistic. In the flashback scenes, Cindy is a cautious romantic. She questions how to trust her feelings when love can be lost quickly, vowing never to be in a loveless relationship like her parents. Dean is a dreamer looking for a girl to fall in love with. After Cindy tells him she is pregnant, he swiftly jumps into wanting to start a family. For him, the role of husband and father becomes the goal of their relationship. Their paths cross at a vulnerable time, where neither seems secure enough as individuals yet, and they’re both caught in a fleeting romance.

When the dynamics of a relationship change for the worse, how do couples get back to how they were? Through time jumps from past to present, the film gives nostalgic reminders that Cindy and Dean were once in better shape. Seeing flashes of hopes and dreams makes the couple’s stagnant, dire future all the more emotionally crushing. Cianfrance smartly avoids relying on exposition to explain why the marriage falls apart. Instead, we see the fragmented aftermath of a crumbling foundation that was not strong enough. Delicate editing by Jim Helton and Ron Patane (who together also edited Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines”) unearths powerful juxtapositions between both timelines. A memorable transition cuts from a flashback of Cindy and Dean’s tearful wedding to a devastating present-day kitchen scene in which their vows break. Cindy reveals she is so out of love with him that she has nothing left to give.

The overall visual language and soundscape of “Blue Valentine” expands on the story and character development. Andrij Parekh’s cinematography has a refreshing clarity and practicality. From the use of natural lighting to the emphasis on various shades of blue throughout, the grounded look of the film adds to its realism. The “Future Room” motel sequence dipped in blue hues features stunning cinematography. Dean’s attempt to bring the spark back into the relationship could not feel more sad. The camera also follows the lived-in energy of the performers, who, under Cianfrance’s direction, engage in a lot of improvised dialogue and spontaneous moments.

A decade before composing their beautiful original score for Celine Song’s “Past Lives,” Grizzly Bear’s Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen provided unique music for “Blue Valentine.” The indie rock band has a futuristic sound that can also be melancholy and hopeful, which captures the bittersweet tone of the story. While the film does not feature an entirely original score by the band, the songs and instrumentals used from their previous albums are still a lovely fit. The song “Foreground,” from their 2009 album “Veckatimest,” plays during a critical moment in the film that mirrors a life-changing realization for Cindy.

The distinctive look and tone of both past and present reflect Cindy and Dean’s relationship at different stages. In flashbacks, wider camera angles often capture them sharing the frame; their interactions are more balanced and harmonious in these scenes. The hand-held camera work also shows intimate moments between Cindy and Dean, such as their sweet, impromptu musical sequence. In contrast, the present-day scenes create more distance between the two characters, often using close-ups to emphasize their gradual separation. Whether in the past or present, you get a front-row seat to what makes the story resonate most: the performances.

The film emerged at an exciting time for both Williams and Gosling. Upon its release, both actors had already been Oscar-nominated, the former for Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” and the latter for Ryan Fleck’s “Half Nelson.” These roles were a terrific prelude to how naturalistic Williams and Gosling can be as performers. The careful structure and improvisational nature of “Blue Valentine” makes room for spontaneity and being present in the moment. The evolution of Cindy and Dean’s relationship hinges on chemistry, which Williams and Gosling have in spades. From the early sparks of romance to brewing frustrations and moments of utter defeat, it all rings true. Their lived-in collaboration fills in the gaps left behind by a fragmented story. Williams and Gosling stretch their sublime emotional range to portray their characters’ past and present selves.

The concept of a troubled marriage might be familiar grounds, but the intimate storytelling of “Blue Valentine” feels personal to Cianfrance’s filmmaking style. Watching the film again, more than a decade after its release, the intense emotions of Cindy and Dean’s relationship hit even harder. Led by two compelling performances from Williams and Gosling, “Blue Valentine” shines with a retrospective story about fleeting sparks of togetherness. Much like the fireworks in the end credits sequence, the film covers fragmented pictures of love exploding into pieces. Cindy and Dean share wrinkles in time, once full of promise. But, the fireworks disappear, leaving them in the eerie quiet of a dissolving romance, desperate to reignite the spark.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Non-linear storytelling, plus terrific performances by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, create a lived-in picture of a dissolving marriage.

THE BAD - Some viewers might find the film exceedingly depressing to watch.

THE OSCARS - Best Actress (Nominated)

THE FINAL SCORE - 9/10

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Nadia Dalimonte
Nadia Dalimonte
Editor In Chief for Earth to Films. Film Independent, IFS Critics, NA Film Critic & Cherry Pick member.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Non-linear storytelling, plus terrific performances by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, create a lived-in picture of a dissolving marriage.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Some viewers might find the film exceedingly depressing to watch.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-actress/">Best Actress</a> (Nominated)<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>9/10<br><br>"BLUE VALENTINE"