Let’s get this straight — “Blue Valentine” is not the feel-good romance movie of the year.
It has its joyfully romantic moments, though, amid its bitterness as it frankly explores what happens when an everyday couple viciously falls out of love.
The film is mesmerizing in its pain. And it wouldn’t be nearly as fascinating were it not for the searing performances from its leads, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who just snagged a best actress Academy Award nomination for the role.
The film is told in two storylines, beginning with present day as we discover Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) living in a small house with their daughter.
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We see right away that things are edgy. Dean and Cindy seem uncomfortable in the same room, let alone in their own skin.
He works as a painter, she in the medical field. They seem content enough in their jobs, but Cindy is thinking over a possible promotion that means a move for the family.
Meanwhile, the family dog goes missing. And when circumstances don’t turn out well, Dean convinces Cindy that the two of them should go away for the night.
That doesn’t go well, either, as they drink the night away and some buried feelings rise to the surface.
Intercut throughout this is the story of how they met, which is a much sweeter tone, indeed. They were so full of promise.
Dean has just moved to New York City and gets work at a moving company. Cindy is going to medical school but having problems with her then-boyfriend, Bobby (Mike Vogel).
They meet at an elderly-care facility, where Dean has just moved in a new resident and where Cindy’s grandmother is living. They eventually start a courtship, but it is derailed with some unplanned complications.
The contrasting stories are never hard to follow, and slowly reveal why the characters behave the way they do.
It’s a beautifully tragic tale, and a simple one, really. The script by Derek Cianfrance (who also directed), Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis doesn’t involve any major action. The emotions are what’s combustible here.
Cianfrance also lets his camera linger, and the realism is almost uncomfortable.
But it lets his actors fully inhabit their space — this is a veritable acting showcase. It’s a marvel to watch Gosling’s initial charisma turn into something much darker, until anger consumes him.
Even as good as Gosling is, though, Williams tops him, bravely baring body and soul. Cindy’s life hasn’t turned out like she thought it would, and we feel that disappointment every moment we’re in the later story. It’s in full contrast to the innocence of her younger self. Williams fully deserves her Oscar nomination.
Overall, the film’s tone may be too suffocating for some — it’s almost exquisite in its sadness.
But “Blue Valentine” is a powerful, almost numbing experience — much like the love it explores.
Rating: R (for strong graphic sexual content, language, and a beating; originally rated NC-17 for a scene of explicit sexual content)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Showing at: Warren Theatre (east)