Film review: Blue Valentine (MFF 2010)

Blue Valentine
Hunting Lane Films, Silverwood Films

STARRING Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
WRITTEN BY Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne
PRODUCED BY Lynette Howell, Alex Orlovsky, Jamie Patricof
DIRECTED BY Derek Cianfrance

SHOT BY Andrij Parekh
EDITED BY Jim Helton, Ron Patane
MUSIC BY Grizzly Bear
DISTRIBUTED BY The Weinstein Company, Alliance Films, Optimum Releasing

Screened at Milwaukee Film Festival, 2010-09-23

There are a few different ways to see a story like this. In the present we watch a marriage fall apart, then we go to the past and watch it’s creation. Back and forth, like two strings wrapping around one another, etc, et al, ad infinitum. One would be hard-pressed not to call Dean (Gosling) a loser. He inhabits a rather low social strata with oblivious nonchalance, working as a mover, unambitious but decent. There would be no real reason to dislike him unless you married him. Cindy (Williams) got pregnant just while she was forming an unlikely friendship with Dean, the two exploring the fun that can be had by riffing about nothing. Alone and in pain, Dean and Cindy (mostly Cindy) nurture a romantic vision of marriage, happiness, future – which is suitably brought to Earth in a few mere minutes in the presence of Cindy’s father, who strips Dean’s meager laurels with justifiable ease with questions like, What do you do for a living? and Did you finish high school?

Blue Valentine was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and was screened Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2010. There’s a throbby, saccharine score by indie folk band Grizzly Bear which, along with the actors themselves, functions as the more interesting aspect of the film. It is shot with now typical verite/whatever flair. Ah, and I now see the story was a 12-year labor of love based off the real experiences of its creator. Color me surprised.

The problem here is that the film appears to be unbiased in its judgment of Dean and Cindy – equal partners in a massive accident – despite the fact that Dean is unequivocally portrayed as a pitiable lump of Male and Cindy is simply a bright star, trying her hardest, confounded by the world and her heart. You leave knowing that Dean made huge mistakes by taking things for granted, and that she did not. The final shot of the film is a rhythmic orgasm of Grizzly Bear, fireworks and a Love Embrace between our stars, celebrating memories of youth and passion – Derek’s Little Elegy. But god – Dean was ten times the loser Cindy was! Don’t give me a Gilded Moment in Time for that man! And exactly what ‘love’ are we celebrating…? Two scared kids jump into a marriage because she’s knocked up..? Yes, romantic young fantasies are nice, but it’s much nicer to evolve.

I digress. I’m being harsh. I personally just have no interest in such narratives. For the type of film that it is… oh, it’s just fine. It might even be pretty good, if you’d like to see such a film. Grizzly Bear is great! Gosling and Williams are exceptional (but why would I want to watch them play losers?). Derek, I think, could’ve spent 12 years being more than nostalgic.

written by David Ashley