Blue Valentine should come with a warning.
Beware, all you commitment-phobes, anyone in a faltering relationship, those living in contempt-breeding familiarity, or parents struggling to retain a sense of themselves in the drudge of child-rearing.
This is not escapism or easy viewing. It’s an uncomfortable, bruised study of a modern marriage, casting unforgiving light on the recognisable minutiae of life that gnaw at a wounded partnership.
It’s also a timehopping comparison that cruelly exposes the chasm between the ephemeral, naïve optimism of initial adoration and the exhausting graft of surviving it. Love, make no mistake, sucks.
And yet… there’s also beauty and tenderness to be found here, too. They’re in the perfectly nuanced performances of Ryan Gosling (robbed of an Oscar nod) and Michelle Williams as damaged goods who interlock in a fledgling romance based on convenience (her), determination (him) and tangible chemistry.
Take their first date – as jumbled, real and bittersweet as their fastforwarded- to marriage will become – as she flirtily soft-shoe shuffles in a shop doorway to his sexy-stupid ukulele playing.
And that glint of loveliness amid the carnage of an abortive dirty weekend as they slow dance in towelling robes. Or the eroticism of a make-out session in her teenage bedroom…
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance’s script (co-written with Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne) recalls the bite of vintage LaBute. He’s also assured enough to simply capture the action vérité-style and set it to Grizzly Bear’s woozy, evocative music. Cianfrance allowed his two leads full immersion in their characters’ world (they lived together for a month in their marital house – the whimsical home videos they made are on the extras) and that preparation successfully informs every horribly truthful gesture and glance as the duo’s marriage unravels.
From the way they intuitively move around each other in a kitchen to the accusatory looks exchanged after a run-in with a former flame. It’s an acting masterclass that demands an audience reaction – whether that’s empathy, frustration, hatred or love – and ensures a fierce emotional investment.
Though Gosling and Williams are the main attraction, kudos too goes to Mike Vogel, playing the cocky jock who drives the two together, and Faith Wladyka as the pair’s caught-in-thecrossfire six-year-old daughter.
Minor quibbles may include some initial confusion over where in time each scene is, an unsatisfactory ending and perceived bias towards Gosling (charming even at his most destructive). But it’s that very inconsistency that makes Blue Valentine so personal to each viewer and, consequently, so damn heartbreaking.
And if you can’t get enough of that Gos-lliams chemistry, there’s plenty more in the chats, deleted scenes and featurette that highlight the passion poured into the project.
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