★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rated R/120 min.
There’s a scene early in Blue Valentine where Cindy (Michelle Williams) runs into Bobby (Mike Vogel), her handsome jock of an ex-boyfriend. We don’t know yet just how meaningful their relationship was, but we can tell from the way Cindy talks to Bobby that his sudden re-appearance has rattled her. Moments later, Cindy is driving with Dean (Ryan Gosling), her husband, and mentions that she saw Bobby at the grocery store and, in a casual lie, that he’s out of shape and no longer attractive. Dean defensively retorts, “Why would I care what he looks like?” and shakes his head silently, pretending not to be hurt. We see how Cindy’s lie both guarded her true, conflicted feelings and how her half-hearted attempt at honesty with her husband has hurt them both. This sequence is startling in its honesty and a sign of things to come. This is a movie that shows, unflinchingly, how a deeply troubled relationship got started and where it’s ultimately headed.
Remember 500 Days of Summer (which screened at the 2009 Maui Film Festival), where we witnessed the beginning and ending of a couple’s season together, told in shuffled order? Imagine that as a gritty independent film that doesn’t rely on a jumbled narrative, self-satisfied winking and flashy CGI. Blue Valentine underlines everything that is false and safe about many movies with a similar premise; it portrays the pain and passion of being in love and cuts deeper than any other modern love story.
Gosling and Williams give incredible performances and reveal new depths. By now most are aware that Gosling is a sensational talent but Williams is especially haunting, living up to the promise she showed in Wendy and Lucy. The two leads have a chemistry that burns brightly, with one scene in particular—a song and dance bit accompanied by Gosling singing and playing his ukulele—that’s the stuff of movie magic. There are also some very painful moments that provide a sharp contrast to the winsome romance. The film is moving, truthful and observant about the ways men and women interact. It’s a date movie, but only for couples who are ready to confront raw emotional intensity.
Most Hollywood love stories have characters who act according to the confines of a “romantic comedy,” a genre that has devolved past cliché. Here, everything Gosling and Williams do feels authentic and lived-in, making the action feel captured rather than performed.
Blue Valentine was initially slapped with an NC-17 rating (since downgraded to R) due to its graphic sex scenes. Let me knock this useless bit of controversy out of the way: the two scenes in question are intense and explicit to be sure, but in no way cross the line into pornography. Anyone going to see this for a glimpse of Gosling and Williams sans clothing should look elsewhere. On the other hand, if controversy helps the movie, so be it. This one shouldn’t be missed.
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