A refreshingly honest portrayal of an average relationship on the rocks - perhaps not one for Valentine's Day
Blue Valentine, the tender story of a relationship on the rocks, thoughtfully examines what happens when one partner decides to stop loving. During a day in Dean and Cindy's lives - as they attempt to save their ill-fated marriage - we flash back to explore their fledgling courtship.
To ensure the easy differentiation between past and present, co-writer and director Derek Cianfrance uses handheld cameras for scenes in the past and static close-ups for present day scenes, serving to exacerbate the excruciating feelings of suffocation experienced by the characters, and making us, the audience, as uncomfortable as they are.
Ryan Gosling might be best known for his work on weep-fest The Notebook, but here he gives a performance more akin to his Academy Award-nominated turn in the criminally under-rated Half Nelson. It is a remarkable study of a man grappling to work out where it has all gone wrong.
Michelle Williams, also an Academy Award nominee (for Brokeback Mountain and now for Blue Valentine itself), takes on the less sympathetic character of Cindy. Despite reluctantly agreeing to a last ditch attempt at saving the marriage, it is clear that Cindy has mentally and emotionally left the floundering partnership behind.
Whilst the film depicts the breakdown of a common relationship - charmingly sweet and romantic -, rather disappointingly it never fully explains the reasons behind that breakdown. Neither Dean nor Cindy wholly comprehend how their partnership began to disintegrate, and neither do we.
This confusion is perhaps most apparent in a present day scene, as Dean and Cindy leave their daughter Frankie with her grandfather overnight. They drive to a cheesy motel - staying in the ‘Future Room’ kitted out with Star Trek-esque control panels and a revolving bed - where Dean strives to reconnect with his wife. It doesn't quite work out.
Blue Valentine feels painfully visceral at times, and Gosling and Williams give raw, exposed performances. They aren’t afraid to get ‘ugly’ either. The suffocating close-ups revealing not only every flicker of an eyelash, or momentarily furrowed brow, but literally every pore. It is thoroughly refreshing. ‘Ugly’ in this case merely means natural.
It is to Cianfrance’s credit that the film never lapses too far into the introspective quagmire, and there are laugh out loud moments aplenty. Here the jokes are delicately handled.
With an excellent soundtrack by Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear, featuring instrumental versions of some previously released tracks, Blue Valentine has a distinctly indie feel. Cianfrance uses real locations and non-actors as much as possible, adding to the film’s powerful honesty. The end result ensures that Blue Valentine is the very antithesis of the average Hollywood rom-com drama.
Blue Valentine runs at the QFT from February 4-17.