Blue Valentine (2010) dir. Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka, Ben Schenkman
By Alan Bacchus
Derek Cianfrance would appear to have assembled the two best people for the job of bringing to life his loose and seemingly semi- improvisational neo-realist anti-love story. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams both veterans of naturalistic indie darlings ‘Wendy and Lucy” and “Half Nelson” feel like Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands in this one, a John Cassevetes couple who are at the end of their marriage, two people going different directions in their lives, but with the complication of having a young daughter.
It’s a particularly ambitious effort to show us a tender and hopelessly romantic courtship intercut with the said romance’s demise. We’re constantly shifting between two extremes - heartfelt expressions of love, which borders on preciousness and scenes of simmering hatred and anger which spills off into inarticulate bickering and conflict.
Despite Gosling’s high regard in these types of indie pictures, he’s the weak link in the duo. His character Dean is seen in the romance stages as an impossibly charming working class poet who, as a moving man, decorates the room of one of his elderly clients, a man who at once lifts heavy mattresses for a living but also plays sweet lullabies on the guitar and piano. In the present, he’s just a blue collar joe with failed potential. And there’s little subtlety in this transition with his balding hair, unironic moustache and Brando-esque carefree mannerisms, not to mention the annoying cigarette perpetually hanging from his mouth.
Michelle Williams as Cindy, on the other hand, is a marvel, and seems more suited to this working methodology. Even when Cindy's a complete shit to Dean, unreasonable and cold as ice, Williams riveting to watch, genuine and believable.
At 120 mins, it’s ridiculously long for such subject matter, but then again Cassevetes made near 3 hour films about the same stuff. Then again, I can barely sit through the overindulgences of Cassevetes which many people praise.
As such ‘Blue Valentine’ is a hit and miss affair. The two parallel stories of romance and tragedy works well in tandem with each other but standing alone suffers from the filmmaker’s over enthusiasm for his own work. But Cianfrance admirably wears his heart on his sleeve and goes for broke emotionally. He cannot be faulted for that.
This type of film is the toughest nut to crack, and contrary to what some might think, doesn’t entirely rest with the actors, instead the ability of the director and editor to shape the loose realism into something more formal and engaging. While not everything works, this could become quite a hit for those bohemian/New Wave romantics.