Blue Valentine

The Academy Award nominations were announced this week and rarely have I been in better shape at this time of year. Counting Blue Valentine, I only have to see five movies between now and the ceremony in about a month. There’s this one. Another is on disc and is in my possession through Netflix. Two open next weekend, but Biutiful might be a problem.

Of those, I think Blue Valentine was the one I was looking forward to the least. It is a dark indie film with a lot of hand held camera, location shots and natural lighting and concerns itself with the depressing yet mundane theme of a disintegrating marriage. It does, however, have some fine acting from the two leads.

Dean, played by Ryan Gosling and Cindy, played by Michelle Williams married a few years earlier when Cindy became pregnant. Dean knows that the kid may not be his but he commits anyway. Cindy has to give up her dreams of being a doctor and becomes a nurse instead. The main source of friction between them is this disparity in their backgrounds. Dean is very much working class; he never finished high school and has almost no ambition, even though he is smart and a pretty good musician. He’s also very defensive about the choices he makes, which makes it very difficult to talk to him without him getting offended. Cindy was very ambitious before the baby and has been simmering with anger and resentment since. She knows that it’s not Dean’s fault, in fact he helped her out of a jam, but she can’t stop herself from taking it out on him. And deep down, she believes the marriage was a mistake.

There are many flashbacks in the movie and in them Dean is charming, and Cindy is shy and affectionate. There’s a real chemistry between them and you can see why they got together. You can also see the things that are going to tear them apart.

Both the leads give brilliant low key performances in roles that require them to be both sympathetic and unsympathetic sometimes in the same scene. That is the film’s strength and ironically its weakness. Two hours is far to long to spend with these unpleasant characters. The film makes its point: romantic love is a myth and then it hangs around for another half hour. The script or maybe the direction or the editing also muddles the emotional through lines of both the leads. Instead of a logical procession of feelings, they take turns sulking. It’s very unpleasant.

This is director Derek Cianfrance’s first feature length movie. He seems to have some promise. Hopefully his next project will be better.

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