Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Movie Review - Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine - ***

Directed by:  Derek Cianfrance

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams

Review:  ‘Blue Valentine’ is no doubt probably going to hit too close to home for some people.  It may be a bit too realistic in that way, but the movie wouldn’t be what it is if it cut any corner in the realism department.  In many ways it’s refreshing to have a movie take a realistic point of view to such a big part of our adult lives, our relationships.  This relationship is not life or death, there are no cities at stake, and nobody else’s lives hang in the balance, just the emotions of these two people caught up in this relationship. 

Often, movies will focus on issues between people as tangible things we can see and have an opinion on.  Usually movie couples find themselves in trouble when one of them cheats on the other or has a drug/alcohol problem.   One of the couples is getting angsty in the relationship and find themselves straying to the bed of another.  Even a film nominated for Best Picture this past year had to resort to this relationship crutch (‘The Kids Are All Right’).  This movie doesn’t need to do that, this movies has the wherewithal to realize that problems in relationships don’t always start with somebody cheating on the other.

I think at some point in everyone’s life they have a moment where they take a step back and ask ‘how did I get here?’  Sometimes it’s a good question, sometimes it’s a bad question, sometimes it’s just for posterity’s sake.  Some people are completely happy with where they are and just want to recap how they got there; some people are miserable where they are and want to find out how they got here so they can get out.  That is what this movie is all about.

Of our two main characters it is difficult to call either one a protagonist or an antagonist as it is not really clear from the movie.  Neither party has ulterior motives they just have glaring faults that it is becoming increasingly hard for each other to deal with.  The movie might be under the umbrella of being about their relationship, but it is framed by their marriage and is told in two alternating storylines where one storyline leads to the beginning of their relationship and the other leads to the end.

The storyline shows how these two got to where they are.  It spares us the details as to how they got to the exact point where the movie picks up, but it shows how they started and gives us a little insight into why they are where they are.  Cindy (Williams) comes from a home where her Grandma tells her she was never in love (even with her husband) and her parents spend their time brooding in silence as they silently resent each other for being in their situation.  Dean (Gosling) comes from a broken home where he basically has been on his own since his formative years and has no reliance or role models in his family to look to.  This makes it no surprise as to why these two are in their current situation; it’s not easy to have a healthy relationship when you do not have any healthy relationship role models to look up to and learn from.

Make no mistake, there is no redemption story here.  This is probably why it will hit too close to home for some.  Many people have probably been in a situation where you are in a relationship that you don’t want to fail simply because you don’t want it to fail.  Everyone has the idea in their mind of where they should be and when they should be there, and when we get away from that our natural reaction is to try and close the gap, fix it, if you will, and get things back to normal.  It is not uncommon for people to be in a relationship they know is over but they tried and worked so hard to get to where they are that they fight for it so that they don’t have to look at themselves and say that they were wrong and they wasted their time.

It’s a tough revelation for someone to come to, especially when they don’t want to reach that point.  It’s a tough moment to grasp when it finally comes and neither party will ultimately be the same afterwards.  That is what this movie is about.  It isn’t trying to give us a lesson to learn, it isn’t trying to tell us something beneath the surface it is simply showing that people are flawed.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but with the divorce rate at 50%+ and climbing every year perhaps the true argument this movie makes is that we just need to be smarter about ourselves.  Our lives are not likes the movies (this one excluded), our lives don’t always work out perfectly and all the little scenes that are skipped in movies are the ones we deal with in our everyday lives.  We have to be prepared for all of these and we have to have the capacity to handle them, which Dean and Cindy did not.

The movie is anchored by the incredibly strong performances of Williams and Gosling.  I have been hearing about Gosling’s talent for a few years now but with movies like ‘Fracture’ in his past I hadn’t truly bought in.  That has changed with this.  I felt his performance was the strongest and if not for the stiff competition in 2010 from other lead actors, he would have been nominated.  Williams was nominated and deservedly so.  Neither of them had that one shining Oscar moment where they laid out a huge speech or had an emotional moment that bombards the audience.  These two were simply real, they looked, acted, and felt like a real couple that was struggling with their identity and had a relationship on its last legs.  That was the true brilliance of their performances.

This movie was very hard to sit though at times due to how realistic it actually was.  If you can handle the affront of this much raw emotion then it will be worth your time to see the performances of two young actors who are rising to the top of their games.

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