BY Alex Gibson
Blue Valentine may not be a classic like Casablanca or Star Wars, but when it came out three years ago, it set the indie film world a flutter with news of a festival darling that pleased critics and audiences alike. I just wasn’t in any of those audiences, not even when it screened in the 19th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival. Consequently, I have had to hush up whenever people around me discussed the brilliance of the film. For the next three years, I kept meaning to watch it, but was never quite in the mood to be depressed.
Well, Easter morning of all days, I finally watched Blue Valentine and was quite amazed. I was expecting a film equal parts romantic and heartbreaking, but that is not what I got; it was just heartbreaking. Even when it was romantic, it was heartbreaking because you know that the happiness on screen would dissolve. Blue Valentine depicts the beginning and the end of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy’s (Michelle Williams) marriage. They meet by chance while Cindy is in college and get married not long thereafter. Almost immediately after they begin dating, Dean and Cindy fall, head first, in love and find themselves locked into a life neither of them expected. Flash forward eight years – they are raising their daughter in rural Pennsylvania. Their mutual sacrifice and resentment weighs on them, causing their marriage to crumble. As is highlighted at the end of the film, their love was like a firework – burning brightly for a short time, then fading into nothing. The story is as devastating as the film is beautifully made.
Though they had both been successful in dramatic roles before, if I was asked what film solidified Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as serious actors, I would say Blue Valentine. Their performances are textured and diverse, as the film switches back in forth between the elation of a new relationship and the polar opposite, the frustration and pain of a disintegrating marriage. Williams especially captures the monotony and disappointment of her life as Cindy lights up upon seeing an old flame and begs for an excuse to get a divorce. Gosling, Williams, and the film as a whole defied my expectations. I completely understand why it was the topic on conversation in 2010.
That said, it is also not a film I am eager to re-watch, much like others of its stature such as Revolutionary Road. Perhaps I will feel different later in life, but as someone really hoping not to end up like Dean and Cindy, it is disheartening to see how easy it can be. Nonetheless, I am glad that I watched Blue Valentine.
Director Derek Cianfrance’s also latest film The Place Beyond the Pines, again starring Ryan Gosling, is also very accomplished and worth seeking out. It is playing in select theaters and will screen for PFS Members on April 10th. If you find yourself in the mood for a heavy, but captivating film, you can find Blue Valentine on Netflix. If you really can’t wait, check out this Indiewire interview with director Derek Cianfrance.
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