Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Rating: R [strong graphic sexual content, language, and a beating]
Runtime: 112 min.
Main Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Rotten Tomatoes: 87% IMDB: 7.8/10
I think it was the 70s Scottish rock band Nazareth who popularized the saying, “Love hurts.” But God knows it’s been said or thought by anyone who’s ever dabbled with the emotion…the honest ones at least. Blue Valentine is an unrestrained, unafraid portrait of both the rich fullness and the utter emptiness of the drug, a smiling ode to the falling in, and a piercing warning to the falling out of, love.
The focus of the film is Dean Pereira (Gosling) and Cindy Heller (Williams), and the genius of its screenplay is that it presents two very different times and places in their relationship, from its conception to its potential destruction, alternating between the two as we share with them in the joys and pains of their love. There’s nothing “Hollywood” about the couple’s present-day suburban marriage (from which they share a young daughter), and even their budding city romance is void of the usual clichés that, while not without their charm, so easily distract an audience from trusting their reality. And still those inescapable themes are there, of class, communication, jealousy, and the defense mechanisms we use to survive, only told in for me what is the most honest, compelling, and ultimately frightening portrayal of love onscreen.
To help achieve an impression of believability, of a history rich in the ups and downs necessary to create any bruised and battled but not yet defeated couple, actors Gosling and Williams rented an apartment together before filming, even staging fights to better tap into the realness of the pair’s dynamic when on camera. While Gosling’s pitch perfect acting came as no surprise to an already fan, it was Williams’ confidently vulnerable performance that I wasn’t prepared for, and her Oscar nomination was well deserved. And as the film straddles that fine, and often winning, line between independent and mainstream, it’s appropriate (and from a fan’s perspective thrilling) that Grizzly Bear would provide the haunting and beautiful soundtrack that so ominously infuses the couple’s landscapes (though Gosling does make a few fine contributions as well).
Chances are that Nazareth also would have agreed with Pat Benatar when she said, “Love is a battlefield.” And in that bittersweet battlefield between two lovers, what Blue Valentine gets so right is that there rarely exists a definitive protagonist and antagonist, or black and white measures of good and evil, but only vague illusions of the two as interpreted by the parties involved.
And who can’t understand that? These notions of love shared and received so easily become muddled through the jagged lenses that never completely filter the stresses of everyday life. We all know it’s ok to be different one from the other, lover between lover. But what director Cianfrance so realistically shows us is the vast world of difference between what happens when those differences bring us together, and what happens when they tear us apart.