Blue Valentine

15 Mar

Director: Derek Cianfrance (2010)

Unless you are fortunate enough to find the one you are going to marry first time round (here’s looking at you mother), the chances are you are going to have to get through some pretty rough relationships before you find one that sticks. This also means that whenever we enter into a new relationship, the odds are stacked against us that this relationship has sell by date whether this is 20 years in the future or a few months in. One of my main qualms with pithy indie romance flicks is their predilection to verge towards those relationships that work out peachy, where any problem can be fixed with a bunch of flowers, a fated number on a bank note or a ghetto blaster. Ok…maybe even in my cynical state a ghetto blaster shaped declaration might work, but this is probably only dependent on the fact that a beige mac-ed John Cusack is attached to said ghetto blaster.

Any film that acknowledges the plain shitty parts of relationships, or indeed acknowledges that relationships to in fact, often, end gain brownie points in my eyes. Who said a romance film has to be a love story? This is why I took so fondly to 500 Days of Summer…until they jinxed it with an almost too twee ending.

In Blue Valentine, we get no such twee ending. Cianfrance drags us, laughing and loving, kicking then screaming, through the entire thing, in 112 minutes. Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a high school drop out who meets pre-med Cindy (Michelle Williams) at a nursing home where he is unloading an elderly residents possession and she is visiting her grandmother. They soon fall in love and get married after finding out Cindy is pregnant. Only this is not the start of the film. The start of the film shows a couple in trouble – a tired mother and a childlike father struggle to maintain the remnants of their marriage, whether this is for the sake of their daughter or in a last ditch attempt to regain the breathless joy that breezed them through the first months of their relationship.

Without descending into glassy eyed teenage girl territory – Gosling is perfect as Dean, the Adonis of the indie boys in his leather jacket, beard and excellent choice in vinyl soul. I challenge you to listen to You & Me by Penny and the Quarters and not suddenly be overcome by the desire to run home and write in your journal as your heart gently breaks, scattering shards as fragile as the bark on the tree you carved your initials into… (Too much?)

Yes you will fall in love with Gosling in a heartbeat, and yes you will probably find yourself resenting Williams (if you didn’t already for the whole Heath Ledger marriage thing) but somehow, towards the end of the film, you grow up. Somewhere, illuminated by the dim, clinical light of the sex motel ‘Future’ room, you watch heart in mouth as the couple hash it out and, just as they do, you realise that this is one relationship that is over. And rightfully so.

For me, it was through the stark differences in Cindy before/after that made me realise that I had once again fallen in the trap I have too often fallen into in my own life, by being so naive and taking Dean’s side for the best part of the film. Cindy’s awkward yet freshfaced vitality, dancing in the street, smiling is made all the more poignant when placed beside the sullen, downtrodden Cindy we see towards the end. Happiness is not always guaranteed just because your husband is amazing with children, can rock a pair of aviators and has wonderful taste in unknown soul records. If only.

Like the degraded relationship before us, the cinematography is gritty switching between the low lit, grainy shots of the present with the light, high colour flashbacks of happiness, facilitated by a great soundtrack by Grizzly Bear. The reverse linear plot device is inspired simultaneously showing us the start and the end of a marriage in one agonizing final sequence – a warning to all the naive, even the brightest spark can be extinguished by time.

An all too devastatingly realistic exploration of the the truth behind the ‘ignorance is bliss’ ethos that clouds our eyes when our hearts embark upon a new relationship – this won’t end, this is the one. Only in Blue Valentine, Cianfrance plays the heady highs of those opening moments with the heart wrenchingly painful moments when you realise this just isn’t going to work anymore, something that rings all too familiar.


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