Love in film is many things.
It can be a mariachi band under a windowsill, a confession of love at New Years, a first kiss that breaks a spell, a boom box overhead, a magic carpet ride, or even a ride on the bow of the Titanic.
It can also be tender, raw, and explosive. Blue Valentine shows that like a firework, a love that burns the brightest may be set to explode in the most dazzling way.
Blue Valentine follows the love story of Cindy and Dean as if it were searching for a reason that their relationship went so wrong. The film alternates between scenes that cover a six-year gap that includes beginning and end of the couples' love for each other.
When Cindy finds herself accidentally pregnant it is Dean, a working-class painter, who sweeps her off her feet. Dean is a goofy romantic with no responsibilities who sees love and marriage as exactly that.
It is this sensuality and excitement that allows Cindy to escape from a world that has objectified her, over her good looks, for years. Both young lovers have seemingly found the very thing they needed to plug the empty hole in their lives and they hastily decide to sail off into their futures together.
However, the future is not so bright and optimistic as the couple may once have hoped it would be. Six years have gone by and their puppy love is no longer the toy it once was. That love has been saddled with the responsibilities of raising a child and earning a living.
Real marriage has set in. However, both Cindy and Dean react in very different ways.
Cindy has grown weary and has lost her fighting spirit that once propelled her life forward. She seems almost complacent in her position in life, as a married mother, instead of the young driven woman who sought out humanity and all the joys it had to offer. She is in dire need of a partner who can grow with her and provide her marital support.
Dean is complacent in a different way. Having married Cindy, Dean is satisfied in his love. Dean is unwilling to move out of his initial goofy romanticism and into a new phase of his love for Cindy. So long as Cindy is the woman he fell in love with six-years prior, he is happy and content.
It isn’t always apparent how or why their relationship has splintered over the years, but is life ever so perfectly spelled-out?
The two decide to leave their daughter at Cindy’s father’s house so that they can spend the night in a futuristic hotel (perfect because the story takes place in the future of this couple’s romance). However, in an attempt to re-ignite their relationship, the couple’s differences are thrown into the open.
Through the juxtaposition of the beginning and end of their relationship, Blue Valentine is able to cast every moment in the film in a new light. This allows for some wonderful surprises in the film, despite the audience knowing the end result of Cindy and Dean’s actions.
Director/writer Derek Cianfrance shows an incredible control over and understanding of his characters. Blue Valentine is his second feature-length film (after 1998’s Brother Tied), but it might as well be the work of a seasoned and veteran director.
Cianfrance utilizes some wonderful handheld camerawork, which is never disorienting, and never backs away from using extreme close-ups. This draws the viewer into the emotional mindset of the characters, rendering every subtle detail as exciting and engaging as the most explosive action sequence.
What really steals the show is Cianfrance’s choice in actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Both actors’ performances are nuanced and complete in every single way. There isn’t a single moment in the film that feels like “acting,” a feat that few films can claim.
What are even more impressive are the physical transformations that each actor has gone through for their roles. The differences are subtle (hair loss and weight gain) but striking in their simplicity.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ performances might only display a difference of six years of time but the actors have boldly accepted their characters’ transformations. The results are some of the most heroic performances onscreen this year.
Blue Valentine is more than a story of love, it is a story of human maturity and development; a love that burned brightly only to explode in a dazzling array of emotions. This is one fireworks show that cannot be missed.
Playing at Bow Tie Harbour 9 in Annapolis.