Blue Valentine

An uncomfortable, needlessly depressing and well-acted film.

There was a time when Hollywood portrayed marriage as a happy institution that was key to a healthy society. Sure, a lot of those films and TV shows were propaganda along the lines of Father Knows Best, going over the top in their promotion of a world in which a kindly man ruled the roost over his doting wife and children.

Then along came Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a devastating cinematic portrait of poisonous marriages and repressed lives that featured Elizabeth Taylor shrieking her way to winning one of the film’s five Oscars. But even as that 1966 film presaged the social revolution and decades of divorce to come, it seems that it also resulted in any serious portrayal of marriage being filled with hatred and negativity, in which “’til death do us part” became as much of a fairytale concept as “once upon a time.”

This winter marks the release of another low point in movie marriages, as Blue Valentine hits theaters with the red-hot indie-actor coupling of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. The film has already stirred up reams of headlines because of the battle surrounding its rating, which originally was NC-17 for a graphic sex scene, but which the film’s head distributor, Harvey Weinstein, successfully appealed to be released with an R.

Blue Valentine follows the relationship of Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) as they meet, fall in love, marry and fall out of love over the course of six years. Director Derek Cianfrance and his co-writers, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne, jump back and forth in time throughout in what appears to be an attempt to mask that the story is so threadbare and often unpleasant.

The biggest problem with Blue Valentine isn’t the fact that an unhappy marriage is depicted, for of course there are plenty of those and cinema needs to reflect all aspects of life. The problem is that if you’re going to put the audience through an emotional wringer, then the characters involved should all have their good points and bad points, or the “bad guy” in a relationship should really be bad.

Here, the couple’s core problem seems to be that Dean is a blue-collar guy with simple ambitions who loves to play with his young daughter on her level. Cindy, meanwhile, used to have bigger dreams of medical school and feels like she’s the more responsible party raising two children—including her husband. The guy may have his childish moments, but considering the sacrifices he makes for Cindy early in their relationship, it’s easy to demand that she cut him some slack and put more work into the marriage.

Everything deteriorates to the point that Cindy is so dispassionate about sex that she appears to be squeamishly resigning herself to it during a one-night attempt at a romantic getaway. The scene itself isn’t much more graphic than plenty of other R films, but the emotions it lays bare are extremely awkward and uncomfortable to encounter.

Kind of like Blue Valentine as a whole.

8 Comments

84,105

craig24 reviewed…

i'd guess the intention the filmmakers had was to create a bleak, uncomfortable atmosphere and film, possibly attempting to instill in the audience the same tension and discomfort these individuals have in their marriage. in that case, is it really a criticism to call it "extremely awkward and uncomfortable to encounter?" It seems to me that that should be what qualifies it is a success.

84,105

Anonymous reviewed…

From what I've read about this movie, I get the impression that the reviewer missed the point of it. It seems that this movie is a purposeful (or maybe not) deconstruction of the modern American marriage between a selfish feminist woman and a weak-kneed guy who bows before her in futile efforts to win her love through supplication. I'm quite intrigued by it.

Robert

3

Robert reviewed…

A good film/story explores the complexities of its characters, and draws in the viewer by presenting realistic characters that are neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but as real people that make good and bad decisions. Bad films/stories are actually fantasy, because the characters are not people, but are pidgeonholed as the hero or the villain. According to this model, Blue Valentine was a masterpiece. The viewer finds him/herself fluctuation between who they root for.

Kozlowski writes, "...the characters involved should all have their good points and bad points, or the bad guy in a relationship should really be bad." I could not disagree more, unless I misunderstand this unclear wording. It makes things easier when the "bad guy" is clear and easy to recognize, but that's not what life is like, nor is it what constitutes a good story.

Steven Adam Renkovish

1

Steven Adam Renkovish reviewed…

I disagree with the reviewer for a number of reasons, mainly because I felt that this was a pretty accurate portrayal of a disintegrating marriage, and it's not supposed to be pretty. The sex is graphic, but unlike Black Swan, the sex in this film serves a purpose. The scenes are far from titillating, and the whole idea was to show you how far apart the two characters were. Granted, the scenes were awkward, however, the situations themselves are awkward for the characters. Ryan Gosling portrays a struggling alcoholic who has resorted to childlike behaviour and tantrums, while his wife merely has to live with it while she tries to make a solid living. The characters are well developed. There are no one dimensional characters here. We see both the good and the bad in each one, and the ending of this film is one of the most powerful moments that I have ever witnessed in a cinema, because it was full of Biblical truth. "For better or for worse". This is what lies at the heart of Blue Valentine. This is what the film is all about.

84,105

Anonymous reviewed…

I like reading these comments more than the review itself. "These films tell the same post-modern plot-less story of the hard-knock life of white people (I also just saw 500 days of Summer which pissed me off for the same reasons)..." Roren: I'm a hipster to the core but that made me laugh.

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