Review by Rob Carnevale
IT’S tempting to describe writer-director Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine as a contemporary take on Revolutionary Road given its intense portrait of the break-up of a marriage.
But it’s much more than that: a deeply romantic celebration of love as much as it is a heartbreaking examination of break-up and loss. Hence, it’s both happy and sad, pulling you emotionally this way and that without ever resorting to easy sermonising or patronising ideology.
At its beating heart are Ryan Gosling’s Dean and Michelle Williams’ Cindy, a married couple whose marriage seems to have reached crisis point following the death of their beloved dog.
Cianfrance’s film jumps between the events following this tragedy and those leading up to the couple’s union, juxtaposing moments of tension and anger with sweetness and naivety.
In doing so, easy judgements give way to fierce re-evaluation as the missteps towards their current predicament paint a complex picture of two lost souls striving to do the right thing in the most trying of circumstances.
Early on, for instance, a breakfast sequence finds Gosling’s playful dad Dean encouraging his daughter to eat sultanas off a table, while criticising Cindy for not allowing the cereal to soak properly in water. She bemoans the fact that his actions will force her to clean up after two kids.
Is it the case that Dean has never been able to grow up that irks her? Or maybe it’s his lack of ambition, slowly revealed, or his addiction to alcohol that sees him intoxicated before work each day.
But then Cindy is no saint, either, and as Cianfrance’s screenplay peels away the layers of their relationship we see a different side to both characters, with Dean emerging as a stand-up guy and hopeless Romeo whose early decision-making takes place amid the throes of courtship.
It’s during a couple of pivotal moments that viewers may well re-assess their feelings – but judgements still never remain easy as Cianfrance refuses to supply easy answers or resolutions.
And every scene feels justified, whether it’s the juxtaposition of a playful sex scene with a more volatile one that almost descends to rape later on, or the various conversations and possible ‘outs’ that are offered, but seldom accepted, along the way.
These are tragically flawed characters, painfully real and we feel every emotion along the way. As such, Blue Valentine is seldom easy viewing, while its final shot is a true heartbreaker guaranteed to leave you emotionally shattered.
Performance-wise, both Gosling and Williams are on Oscar form – their respective transformations effortlessly conveyed so that we feel every laugh and tear, every heartfelt decision and loss of dignity. It’s raw, honest acting that’s tailor-made for the term warts and all!
In the US, Blue Valentine has been threatened with a dreaded NC-17 rating, presumably for some of the more graphic sex scenes. But festival screenings (both here and at Sundance) would appear to have opted to show the more toned down version.
No matter what it’s fate, though, the film demands to be seen and has already captivated audiences at Sundance and Cannes. It’s one of the most powerful, moving and tense films of the year, with tour-de-force performances from everyone concerned.
Running time: 114mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: May 9, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Ryan Gosling interview
- Blue Valentine Photo Gallery
- Blue Valentine UK Premiere Gallery