"How do you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?"
Admittedly, I may not be in the best frame of my mind to be revisiting a film like Blue Valentine, but it's the kind of movie that calls to you, particularly on those dark nights of the soul. Co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance & stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams have crafted the most honest, gut wrenching film about the dissolution of love ever made. It's not an easy movie to watch, but it's impossible to forget. The synergy of the script, the direction, the editing and especially the performances makes it a film that, as depressing as it is, I never tire of revisiting.
Blue Valentine tells the story of Dean (Gosling) & Cindy (Williams), a couple that's been together for several years, and can no longer see the best in one another as they used to. The film is told with two straight linear narratives that tell the story of the beginning of their relationship as well as the end of it, and the way they're interwoven is brilliantly done. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the editing is on a par with The Godfather Part II for knowing how and when to cut from one timeline to the next. It's masterfully done in that just as you begin to hate the characters for who they've become, they're immediately endeared to you by showing how idealistic they used to be.
Both actors rise admirably to the material. Gosling in particular has floundered of late by building this wall of stoicism which he hides behind in an attempt to remain enigmatic, but his work here is fantastically well observed and honest. The scene when he confronts Cindy at work, after she flees the hotel room where they foolishly attempt to reignite the flame in their marriage, is potentially the best work of his career. Everything from his wardrobe (wildlife sweatshirts) to his body language is incredibly well done, and I want to see more of this Ryan Gosling in the future.
Williams is his perfect counterpoint in every regard. Watching her vacillate from guarded young woman to a working professional trying to keep whatever shred of dignity she has left is amazing. The early scenes with her grandmother, in particular the one in which her father explodes at her mother during dinner, are heartbreaking and the work of an actress firmly in command of her emotions on screen.
They walk an incredible tightrope because you root for them so much in their early relationship, but when you know they're doomed, it makes it even harder to watch those early scenes. The tenuousness of love is so present at all times, and while the film is ultimately bleakly pessimistic in regard to love, it still shows how pure and true love can be when it first starts. The script by Cianfrance, Joey Curtis & Cami Delavigny is so well written & structured, and Cianfrance's direction is its equal in every way.
Blue Valentine has no qualms with ripping your heart out and showing it to you just before you die, but I wouldn't want it any other way. Retrospectively, it makes this year's The Place Beyond the Pines even more of a disappointment because it seems like a giant step backward for both its director & star. I know they will go on to do better things, but it's hard to believe that they'll ever make another film this good again. Blue Valentine is not for everyone, but everyone that watches it will be affected by it, and that's the mark of a truly great film.
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]