Forever — the concept that something can last “without ever ending” seems implausible — nay — it is impossible. Yet at the same time, achieving something — especially love — that can last eternally and never wither or fail, is an insatiable lust that, unfortunately, no human being can ever conjure up. This makes Hollywood’s view of relationships a complete mockery as it follows the outline of meeting someone, falling in love, having a major fight, and finally getting back together — indefinitely. Fortunately, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is the antithesis to the “perfect date movie,” as it goes against every cinematic stereotype pertaining to romance.
The film isn’t about being a struggle between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ — these are nonexistent factors in Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean’s (Ryan Gosling) failing marriage. Instead, the root case for the eventual downfall of their relationship is quite simple: They’re just not compatible. Dean, although a loving father, is content with the fact that he has never finished high school and is now a blue-collar worker and while he makes an honest effort to establish a fatherly connection to his illegitimate daughter, he is insecure and reckless. To him, the ideal living conditions include a job that allows him to drink at eight in the morning and dates at cheesy, run-down sex motels, which offers venues such as ‘The Future Room’ and ‘Cupid’s Cove.’ Cindy, on the other hand, is an aspiring doctor who now finds Dean’s bedside manner childish, remaining completely unnerved when he sweetly wakes her up alongside their young’un. Ultimately, though Cindy and Dean fell in love with each other’s individual quirks, it was the conflict between their juxtaposing personalities which set the groundwork for their faltering relationship: Dean being an underachiever while Cindy is much too career driven. However, the one thing they do have in common is their one-sided approach to relationships, living under the farce/mantra that “love conquers all,” leaving them unprepared for any sort of turbulence.
But Cianfrance, who co-wrote the script with Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne, does well to steer clear of indie clichés and tactics, namely an overreliance on being dark — a method employed liberally in independent filmmaking in an attempt at being hailed as “hip,” “provocative,” and “wholly original.” This ploy may bolster the status of the film’s creators, but it also causes the production to be cheap and contrived. For Blue Valentine, whose plot is moved along with a series of flashbacks that chronicle the couple’s tender beginnings, and flashfowards which return the story back to the present (where Dean is now Balding and a chain smoker — an implicit sign of stress), the scenes that present the current state of Cindy and Dean’s relationship — one that is inept of any and all romance — are thematically more powerful. They intricately mix in your face drama, and subtle plot-points that leave it up to audience members and their unique experiences to fill in the gaps. This creates a more personalized movie-going experience. However, the sweet, not too sappy, inception of their romance is not shoved under the rug, being of the same quality and entertainment value as the rest of the film.
Another key element of Blue Valentine is its characterizations — another success on all fronts. The screenwriters do well never to put blame on either protagonist and thus neither Cindy nor Dean are antagonized, and though the former is a tad stoic, Williams does an excellent job at maintaining the character’s overall likability. The same can be said about Gosling, whose charisma goes hand-in-hand with his talents. All through the film, the two leads remain compelling, believable, and relatable; one of the main reasons why Cianfrance’s latest succeeds on a monumental level.
Though the conclusion, an artsy-fartsy fireworks display set to ‘Grizzly Bear,’ in a composition meant to cater to the hipster demographic, which arguably are what Cindy and Dean fall into, does border on being superfluous, and is a bit too open-ended it doesn’t dampen the production. However, in the direction of a less capable artist, Blue Valentine would have fallen flat and become uninteresting. Expect Oscar nominations for both performers.