Let me just go right out and say it, Blue Valentine is one of the best movies of the year. It is a major accomplishment for the actors (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) and the director (Derek Cianfrance).
While Valentine ranks with the best of the year, it is different. It does not have memorable scene after memorable scene full of sparkling dialogue like The Social Network nor is it a no holds barred thrill ride like Black Swan. It does not comment on the current American family like The Kids Are All Right, nor is it Shakespearean in its story-telling like Animal Kingdom. But it is a raw, emotional, courageous story about falling in love and dealing with disappointment. And who among us has not felt that bitter taste in their guts.
The movie introduces us to a married couple( Gosling and Williams) with a young daughter as they start another day. Just the everyday minutiae of waking up and getting ready for your day. Bit by bit the movie exposes how unhappy they are and intersects between their current status and how they met and fell in love years ago. Think of it as the anti rom-com, the movie that answers the question that most movies shy away from, what happens to the couple after they get together. However it also answers the other question that is asked when two people are clearly unhappy together; why did they ever get together.
And boy does it answer those questions. Every line and detail builds that story. There is no one explosive or particularly memorable scene but full crescendos building. One building up to falling in love, the other building away to falling out of love. And they come together in the two fantastic lead performances.
I was not sure about Gosling at first. But his performance is very smart. With very little back story, he makes you understand Dean. The young hopeful romantic he was, and the lazy husband and father he became. His physical transformation is phenomenal but his emotional nakedness even more so.
Williams has a lot of back story. It is refreshing to see the female protagonist get a fully fleshed out character and she does wonders with it. She has a fantastic scene on the Brooklyn Bridge where she can’t quite bring herself to tell Gosling something about their relationship. You can see and feel the fear and anticipation weighing so heavily on her. But that is just one scene. She is good in every moment on screen. I understood the young ambitious school girl, the wise daughter and mostly the woman aching to change her life. Hers is the more unsympathetic character but I was totally on her side because of the performance.
Cianfrance knows he hit a gold mine with these two. That is why his hand held camera is always there, very very close to them. At first I found the technique jarring. But then I understood what was happening. I did not want to look at all this raw emotion. It was so powerful it made me feel as if I was intruding on very private moments in a marriage. That is the brilliance of this movie.
I’ve heard a lot that the movie is dark and depressing. I think it tells an all too human story and tells it well with open and emotional performances.