Love on the Rocks
Although we want the best for the couple played by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine, the film’s title reveals where their romantic relationship is headed. Still, it’s best not to be put off by that spoiler, for this hardest-to-watch movie of 2010 delivers a powerful story about falling in and out of love. I found it heart-wrenching yet spellbinding to sit through, mostly because of brilliant performances by two of today’s finest young actors: Williams and Gosling make their characters seem so real that I desperately wanted a happy ending for them. Credit also goes to director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance for his unique storytelling ability and his creative use of different time periods to hold our interest.
During the falling-in-love period for Cindy (Williams) and Dean (Gosling), it’s a pleasure to see them together. In one of my favorite scenes of the year, Dean asks Cindy if she can dance -- when they’re walking down a street at night. Cindy immediately takes off her backpack and demonstrates her amateurish tap dancing talent while Dean strums his ukulele and sings “You Always Hurt the One You Love” in a wonderfully weird voice. It’s clear they make each other very happy. If only they could maintain this type of playfulness together, what a joyful life would be in store for them!
Unfortunately, we see things are very different in the future. Yes, they both love their darling little daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka). But Cindy resents giving up her dreams of medical school and doesn’t find Dean so charming and funny anymore. She even claims to be raising two children instead of one. Dean’s jealousy and temper also cause serious problems for her. Dean’s insistence on taking time out for a tryst in the “Future Room” at a motel, fails to excite Cindy – and, in fact, her agreement to go along with Dean’s plan leads to a disturbing sexual interaction that signals the end of the relationship for her.
Other movies -- such as Shoot the Moon -- have dealt with “love gone wrong” before, but Blue Valentine almost makes you feel like you’re spying on the couple in question. Williams, who amazed me so much in Wendy and Lucy, seems gifted with a special ability to project extreme joy and despair on screen. She uses that talent to the max as Cindy. And Gosling has never been better. He endows Dean with emotional richness and range, so we can’t help caring for him – even during his worst behavior episodes.
“We felt like we were really living these roles,” Gosling said during a recent interview on BlogTalkRadio. I think most viewers of Blue Valentine will see that authenticity in the terrific performances of its co-stars.
WARNING: Not for incurably romantic viewers or people who don’t want to know how difficult it can be to keep love alive.
(DVD available May 10, 2011. Released by The Weinstein Company and rated “R” on appeal for graphic sexual content, language, and a beating; originally rated “NC-17” for a scene of explicit sexual content.)