Review: Blue Valentine
PLOT: The beginning and the end of a relationship between two highly complex young adults (Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams).
REVIEW: BLUE VALENTINE was definitely one of the more controversial, and challenging films to emerge from the Sundance Film Festival this year. It's since played to great acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival, and The Weinstein Company will be rolling it out for Oscar consideration.
However, BLUE VALENTINE is already infamous due to the fact that the MPAA in their infinite LACK of wisdom, saw fit to bestow the film with the dreaded NC-17, which would have all but doomed the film to a limited run on the art-house circuit, as many theaters won't play NC-17. Reportedly, the objections had to do with an oral sex sequence between Gosling and Williams, where it's implied that Williams is not enjoying the experience. The scene is uncomfortable, tough to watch, but utterly truthful for the characters at the stage they are in the film. It's challenging, but never exploitative. In fact, there's not really even any nudity in the sequence.
Luckily, sanity has prevailed, and BLUE VALENTINE is getting the R it deserves, without any cuts. Hopefully controversy won't overwhelm the film, as it's truly an astounding relationship drama in the vein of John Cassavetes.
Like in a Cassavetes film, much of the dialogue feels improvised, although this is more much polished visually, with director Derek Cianfrance giving the film a rich and dynamic look (appropriately shading a few of the scenes in cold, metallic blue). Visually, it's actually quite beautiful, reminding me of Christopher Doyle's work with Wong Kar Wai in films like HAPPY TOGETHER, or FALLEN ANGELS. Yet, while the look is stylized, the content is not. Emotionally, this feels real, which makes this a rather turbulent film to sit through.
Essentially, this is a two-hander, with Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams playing the couple that falls in and out of love over the years. Both have interesting, three-dimensional roles. Gosling plays the more romantic of the two; an uneducated, somewhat naive laborer who falls madly in love with Williams at first sight. Williams' is the much more cynical half of the couple, with her playing a promiscuous med-student who probably should have never ended up with someone like Gosling in the first place. Sure enough- the movie makes it painfully clear that she's the one who falls out of love first.
The two have an interesting dynamic, with both having very juicy roles to sink their teeth into. They de-glamorize themselves in a big way, with Gosling allowing himself to age noticeably over the course of the film. As for Williams, she has a couple of very graphic, realistic sex scenes. She not only goes topless at times, but also goes full-frontal, which is a brave choice. My only problem with the performances is that, of the two, Gosling tends to over-indulge a bit in the actorly tics. At times, he comes off as a bit of a Marlon Brando/ James Dean wannabe with lots of mumbling, and some tough guy posing. However, it could be argued that these tics are appropriate to the character, and I suppose, if there's any actor of our generation that deserves comparison to those guys, it would be Gosling.
While BLUE VALENTINE is probably the emotional equivalent of a slasher film, it's definitely something that demands to be seen, as it features two incredible performances by two of the best actors of our generation. While it's probably not a great first date film (although one could argue it's a perfect last date film), it's something that I'm sure a lot of us will be able to relate to. It shows how time has a way of eating away at our relationships, and that love isn't always immune to its ravages.