Looking back at 2010, there were some great movies that year. If you ask people which movies they remembered most from 2010, you would get some obvious answers – Inception, The Social Network, The King’s Speech, True Grit. One movie that won’t find its way into most people’s answer, however, is Blue Valentine. If you can remember it at all, it’s most likely because of the controversy surrounding its original NC-17 rating. Its director and producers fought for, and eventually won, the revised R rating it deserved. This both helped and hindered the movie. It made some money, but is pretty much forgotten now in 2012. When I had an opportunity to watch it recently, the rating controversy was all that came to mind. It’s a pity, because it deserves to be remembered for the engrossing film that it is. Blue Valentine is a study on love. What is love really? Is it a feeling that can simply just vanish one day? I don’t think any recent movie has taken on this subject with a more authentic approach than Derek Cianfrance, the film’s writer and director, did in Blue Valentine.
Blue Valentine charts the evolution and disintegration of a couple’s marriage, Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), over a span of years by cross-cutting between the present and the beginning of their relationship. It starts out with their relationship obviously already on the rocks. For the rest of the movie, it’s left to the audience to figure out what went wrong.
The acting is superb. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams both deliver performances that were unmatched in a year of other great performances. I don’t throw that statement around lightly either. They truly become the characters. I did some research and was impressed by the extent of work they did to get into their respective roles. Before shooting, they actually moved into the house where the movie was shot and lived there for 2 months with their movie daughter. Both Gosling and Williams chose the songs and music for their characters in the movie, as well as deciding how their respective characters would age over the timespan of the story. In the story, Dean (Gosling) has a job with a moving company. One scene involves Dean moving furniture. The scene was shot with Gosling working on the crew of a real moving company to move the film’s cinematographer, Andrij Parekh, out of his lower east side New York City apartment. Improvisation played a big part in the script. Williams signed on to the project in 2003, and Gosling came on board in 2005. They were closely involved with making of the film up until shooting began and wrapped in 2009. Williams was nominated for a best actress Oscar (she didn’t win). I believe Gosling should have been nominated, as well – for best actor. I think he deserved it; I think they both did.
I loved the soundtrack. Most of the songs are from the band Grizzly Bear. They’re a very atmospheric group. The music in Indie films can be a distraction at times, but in this case everything fits just right – the music sets, matches and supports the tone and mood of the film and is a perfect complement to the action and performances. I especially enjoyed You and Me by Penny & The Quartersand You Always Hurt the Ones You Love by Doris Fisher and Allan Roberts, performed by Ryan Gosling in the movie. They’re great songs and the lyrics are meaningful to the story.
The characters of Dean and Cindy could not be more realistic. You can relate to them and they are well developed. The movie does a good job of not making either of them the obvious villain. While watching you do have quite a bit more sympathy for Dean. On second viewing, though, I did see more of Cindy’s point of view; her character’s emotions are much more subtle and nuanced. As viewers, we see the moments when they first start falling in love. Then we see them when they have fallen out of love, or rather, we see their life in a routine that seems comfortable to Dean, but that all-too-obviously has become suffocating to Cindy. We can see that they are both frustrated with each other because their married life has not fulfilled their respective expectations, but we don’t know precisely why. Of course, I think this is the point. I think the point is that there are no easy answers and there is no right or wrong in a situation like this, and that, if you don’t define what you want out of a marriage going in, then you may find yourself in exactly the same situation. Cindy has fallen out of love with Dean and she has to come to terms with dealing with that and Dean has to come to terms with accepting it. We see hints and clues as to how this developed intercut between scenes of the present and past.
Derek Cianfrance does a lot with the script and direction. He seems like he’s a seasoned writer/director; it’s impressive for his first feature film. There are some great things he does with the directing. One thing to specially note is the way the movie is shot. In the past everything is shot pretty much normal. Everything is alright (for the most part) and there’s a sense of happiness. In the present, when Dean and Cindy have fallen out of love, many scenes are shot close-up to convey a sense of suffocating entrapment. Many things like this make the direction special. In an interview he stated that around 70% of the script found its way into the movie. A good 30% of the dialog and action in the film was pure improvisation. I am sure this is what makes the dialog feel so real. Derek filmed a few documentaries before making Blue Valentine and that influence was a great benefit to this film, in my opinion. It added a sense of authenticity.
I’ve done nothing but praise this movie. After watching it twice, I couldn’t find anything that could be deemed bad. The only negative thing I could say is that it’s not a movie you’ll re-watch with any frequency, for entertainment value. But, being unpleasant at times is also a major testament to the film’s depth. It digs extremely deep and plunges the viewer into an emotional maelstrom. “Re-watchable” value is the only thing that prevents it from being higher on my best of 2010 list (it is at number six). I do think it’s something you will watch again, though. Blue Valentine was one of the saddest, most honest, thought-provoking and best movies of 2010. I am looking forward to Derek’s new movie, The Place Beyond The Pines. It comes out later in 2012 and also stars Ryan Gosling.