BLUE VALENTINEStarring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Despite having received a controversial NC-17 rating in the U.S. (subsequently withdrawn) for an oral-sex scene, the warning Blue Valentine should come with relates more to its graphic emotional content. What you see will stay with you for a long, long time to come.
The second feature from director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine’s story unfolds in non-linear fashion, jumping backwards and forwards in time between the warm highs and devastating lows punctuating Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy’s (Michelle Williams) five-year relationship.
Part lout and part sweetheart, Dean’s an aggressive charmer whose mother abandoned him at a young age. Cindy’s a broken girl from an abusive home who needs someone to take care of her. He carries a ukulele around with him. She tap dances. They’re equally nuanced creations, and their hipster romance reflects a 20- to 30-something demographic under-represented in mainstream fare.
In fleshing out the lovers, Gosling and Williams deliver the performances of their young careers. Gosling uses his immeasurable skill to tap into Dean’s softer side, even when the character’s an insufferable dick. Williams’s quiet, determined presence suits Cindy’s inability to articulate her frustrations. Instead, the actress communicates Cindy’s feelings through wonderfully subtle body language. The pair have pressure-cooker chemistry, making every interaction between Dean and Cindy volatile, be it happy or otherwise.
At the centre of the heartbreak, Cianfrance skillfully exposes the folly of love at first sight: It doesn’t permit for change and growth. The couple can’t evolve since their bond is predicated on a moment in time that can never be recaptured. Dean and Cindy’s relationship is built on an unstable foundation such that its collapse is a foregone conclusion. To Cianfrance’s and the actors’ credit, watching those pieces come together and then implode is nothing less than riveting. —Andrea Warner