Blue Valentine Will Make You Feel Blue. Suck It Up.
The story of Derek Cianfrance‘s Blue Valentine is quite simple: Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love (out of convenience and a desire for companionship, like the rest of humanity, unlike what every Hollywood rom-com would have you believe), life happens, boy and girl fall out of love. It is perhaps this simplicity that makes the film so approachable–viewers can relate to the bare yet complex story of what happens inside of a marriage and how it might all fall apart. You secretly root for these characters to figure it out and stay together–for the sake of cuteness if nothing else–but know that this is an impossible task. The story of who these lovers are, how they got together and how they rip apart, is an intense 112 minutes. (Also, the fact that the couple is ridiculously attractive and the audience sees them both in varying states of undress doesn’t hurt either and forced the film to argue with the MPAA for an R-rating instead of NC-17.)
Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a motherless, Florida-born roughneck who never graduated high school and yearns for fairy tale romance, believing that someone to love/someone to love him is all he needs to have a complete and fulfilled life, so obviously, when Dean meets Cindy (Michelle Williams), he of course immediately falls head over heels for her. Cindy yearns to live a life outside of her parents home and escape their awful verbally abusive union. And so Cindy and Dean meet, and the meeting is cute. The film takes us, via a disrupted chronology, through the last seven years. We zig-zag between the present and the past to more fully understand this couple both as individuals and as husband and wife.
As a married couple, Dean and Cindy epitomize the stereotypical working class couple. Dean works in the present day as a house painter, though we know through the flashbacks that previously he worked for a moving company. These are likely just two in a long list of similar jobs that provide enough economic stability but are stagnant and lack momentum. Cindy, by comparison, is ambitious and regrets that she didn’t go to medical school. While as a couple they are working class, as individuals it is clear that they are of different demographics. Dean has no desire to be anything but working class whereas Cindy yearns to return to her once middle class life (or beyond it).
This difference of goals is never so clear as when Cindy pointedly asks Dean if he ever wants to live up to his potential. For Cindy, who hasn’t lived up to her potential due to circumstance, not desire, Dean’s lack of motivation to make something more of himself is but one of the many causes for their quickly dissolving union. Cindy has settled into being a nurse, then mother, then wife (and yes, absolutely in that order), but she doesn’t understand why Dean moves from one dead-end job to another. Dean, meanwhile, is the lovable loser, a man who loves his wife and six-year-old daughter, Frankie, and defines himself soley in those roles. “I didn’t want to be somebody’s husband and I didn’t want to be somebody’s dad, that wasn’t my goal in life. But somehow it was. I work so I can do that,” he tells Cindy at one point. Which is not to say that the alpha female/beta male match can’t work; it does for many. But it can’t work for Cindy and Dean.
Blue Valentine is the story of a relationship unravelling, although universal in nature, uniquely painful to this couple. Of all the possible Oscar awards, Blue Valentine is nominated for only one–a Best Actress nomination for Michelle Williams. But that’s not to say the film isn’t worthy (it is) or that it hasn’t been a critical darling (it has). In a season of True Grit, The Social Network, The Fighter, and The King’s Speech, it’s understandable how the film, Cianfrance, and Gosling could be passed over for nominations. And, in a season of Black Swan (Natalie Portman) and The Kids Are All Right (Annette Benning), Williams doesn’t stand much of a chance. Okay, so it won’t win an Oscar. But it’s a well-written, well-acted film and you should see it. Just don’t see it with your significant other. And make plans to immediately play with puppies afterward so you don’t fall into a deep depressive walking-coma.
Blue Valentine (Rated R) is currently playing at the Esquire, 590 Downing Street, (303) 352-1992.