Written for Spoonfed, London Film Festival 2010
Blue Valentine, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, insists it’s not a romance. Mostly because it follows a couple in the waning days of their marriage as they become increasingly disillusioned with each other. But it carries so many of the conventional aspects of a love flick that the persistent anti-romance tag becomes a little tedious. In its favour is its form. Blue Valentine like some of the most memorable art, is more about the depiction than the depicted.
The gender politics too are a tad predictable from the moment we meet the down and out characters via the not so welcome squeal of their daughter – the fantastic and surprisingly not that annoying child actor Faith Wladyka. An aspirational woman (Williams), meets a guy who has only just about got his shit together. Dean (Gosling) has no work experience when he gets a job at a removals company, through which he meets Cindy who’s studying with hopes of medical school and happens to be dating a sweaty, wrestler type stud who doesn’t understand her off-beat ways.
The story of their petering present – in which Cindy has become a thankless nurse and Dean drinks all day and works as a house painter – is interspersed with scenes from their heady beginnings. Director Derek Cianfrance hones in on the coming together of their lives with much thought for the cinematic aesthetics. When the couple meet they’re almost constantly in the frame of a youthful hand-held camera that celebrates their left-field love. Years later, with a child in tow and aspirations down the drain, they’re separated by persistent close-ups.
The absorbing camerawork makes up for the frustrating couple. They’re real but for the most part they’re dull. With Williams in such a miserable, uncommunicative female role, Gosling carries the humour and most of the heart. To Williams’ credit, she embodies Cindy. Her head follows her heart and things don’t work out so rosy but it’s a mystery why such a smart character wouldn’t try harder to communicate with her husband who, as you’d expect from Gosling, only has eyes for her. But they are lazy, somewhat stereotypically male eyes, that fail to see why his wife is so discontent. Dean is caught up in his own lack-lustre existence, fuelled solely by happy times with his little girl.
It’s not completely unsentimental but it’s not gritty either. The Notebook fans will flock to see it and the rest of us will enjoy the cinematography.
Image by Davi Russo