Blue Valentine

Director: Derek Cianfrance.
Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman, Faith Wladyka, Mike Vogel, Marshall Johnson, Jen Jones, Maryann Plunkett, James Benatti, Barbara Troy, Carey Westbrook, Ben Shenkman, Eileen Rosen, Enid Graham.

“I like how you can compliment and insult somebody at the same time, in equal measure”

Back in 2004 when Ryan Gosling was still a relative unknown, he caught a break by starring in a little love story called The Notebook. It was a huge hit among the ladies and he charmed the knickers off many a bored housewife. Needless to say, Gosling became a star overnight and he developed a very enthusiastic female fanbase. Try asking a lot of women, or even some men for that matter, what they think is a good romantic movie and The Notebook will generally get a shout-out. As a little social experiment, I’d like to offer up an alternative to those who love Gosling, The Notebook and those who love to see romance triumph over adversity by suggesting they watch Blue Valentine. It’s the polar opposite of that sentimental and clichéd pap and could induce nightmares to those of a more sensitive nature when it comes to how relationships are depicted on screen. 

Plot: Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are a young, working class couple who finds themselves at a testing juncture in their marriage. Cindy has ambitions and looking for more from life while Dean has remained the same person and shows little chance of changing. This puts a lot of pressure on their relationship as resentment and bitterness begin to appear and the dissolution of their marriage becomes an inevitability.

Apparently borrowing from the Tom Waits album of the same name, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is a perfectly fitting title. It’s a contradiction in terms of how something so sweet and beautiful can also be so cruel and depressing. That is the tone and exploration of Cianfrance’s tragic love story. As we are introduced to the lives of Dean and Cindy we witness their courtship and their marriage while it’s juxtaposed with their breakup. The earlier moments of their relationship is filled with happiness, hope and genuine love and affection while the latter times are so deeply painful and emotionally devastating. The real stroke of genius here, though, is in Cianfrance’s decision to avoid a linear structure. He intercuts with opposing time-frames which allows him to dissect the whole meat and bones of these two characters’ lives together with a detailed analysis of events and behaviours. As a result of the non-linear approach we, as viewers, are taken on a rollercoaster of emotions and given a fly-on-the-wall experience of this affair that’s told with an unflinching realism.

Alongside co-writer’s Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne, Cianfrance achieves a meticulous balance to the film. It could have been so easy to side with one character or the other but as we see these people (warts and all) we come to understand that neither one of them is solely to blame for the breakdown of their relationship. I initially found myself taking it from a male perspective and saw Cindy as cold, distant and unloving but there’s always two sides and I when I considered it from her perspective I could see her reasons in how Dean refused to grow or challenge himself. As Cindy wants more for her life and career, Dean is content with simply being a husband and father. Neither one is in the wrong but, unfortunately, they become incompatible due to their individual wants and differing needs.

In order for it all to come together, though, it demands commited performances. And that’s exactly what we get from Gosling and Williams. The verisimilitude of this relationship is owed to the magnificent work that two leads put into it. In order to achieve the requisite authenticity, Gosling and Williams improvised a lot of their lines and even rented an apartment together for a month where they shared the stresses of daily life by living within the same meagre budget of their characters, going shopping, cooking meals, sharing the same bathroom and exploring different ways of picking fights with each other. Their commitment and approach to the roles really pays off and they are entirely convincing in their fluctuating ranges of emotion. Williams was rightly afforded an Oscar nomination for her work (losing out to Natalie Portman for Black Swan) but Gosling was disgracefully overlooked. This is one of those films where the performances are inseparable and it remains some of the very finest work both Williams and Gosling have delivered – throughout their already superb body of work.

A very bleak but tender anatomy of a relationship that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Boasting extraordinary performances from the leads, it’s so sobering and realistically laid out that it’s uncomfortable to watch. Never have I seen a relationship on screen that’s depicted with such brutal honesty with a simple viewing being enough to save some couples a fortune in relationship counselling. It may not be the best film for a romantic evening with your other half but it’s the best film about the challenges that a long term relationship brings. Absolutely outstanding work by all involved.

Mark Walker

Trivia: The inspiration for the film was the divorce of Derek Cianfrance’s parents when he was 20. He was so devastated that he wanted to do a film that would help him figure out how a relationship began and ended.

21 Responses to “Blue Valentine”

  1. I freaking get this and Blue Velvet confused all the time!

    I was entranced by Cianfrance’s Place Beyond the Pines when I first saw it and really appreciated the expansive and deeply emotional journey he provided with The Light Between Ocean’s, so I’ve gotta believe this would be another one I’ll be very moved by. He’s a director that conveys a sense of time passing in ways that are achingly painful and grandly romantic at the same time. He’s kind of unique in that way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve yet to catch up with The Light Between Oceans but Pines was outstanding. I actually thought Pines was the better film until I caught a revisit of Blue Valentine. Man, it’s an absolute punch to the gut. This is the most realistic portrayal of a relationship I’ve even seen. It’s brutal, man. Seriously, it’s hard not to identify with it on many levels and because of that, it’s squirm inducing when you’re watching it. Talk about close to the bone.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m a guy and I was on Cindy’s corner from the get go. I found Dean’s well-meaning but emotional immature. I was surprised that she tolerated him as long as she did. Not a good fit. The movie’s fine, but what you remember is the excellent performances … nice review!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I totally see what your saying, Eric. Dean definitely was this character but I still don’t think he deserved Cindy being so distant and cold with him. He loved her deeply but the obvious message of the film was that love, simply isn’t enough. Cindy did deserve more too and I reckon both came out of the relationship with their hearts torn out. I liked it the first time I seen but a second viewing really knocked my socks off. I caught so much more that I had missed first time round.

      Thanks for stopping by mate. Appreciated! 🙂


  3. This movie was so raw and realistic. A most refreshing change from the usual depiction of romance. This unvarnished approach really made it feel almost like a documentary of these two people and their relationship deteriorating.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is an outstanding movie. It should be seen by all young couples before getting married, really.

    “A meticulous balance to the film. It could have been so easy to side with one character or the other but as we see these people (warts and all) we come to understand that neither one of them is solely to blame for the breakdown of their relationship.” – well said, and this is what makes this film so great.

    P. S. I remember seeing this and “500 Days of Summer” in the same week…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Seems like a good fit with the October festivities.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. […] The film will be released on 05.10.2018 and features the incredible Michelle Williams as well (one of the best young actresses, in my mind. I love ”Blue Valentine”.). […]


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