'Blue Valentine' Review: Cold But Commendable
“Blue Valentine” seeks to capture the beginning and the possible conclusion of a young relationship. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play two young people who fall in and out of love in a few short years. Although "Valentine" is a well-made movie that can be appreciated on an artistic level, the story is often too cold and distant to be enjoyed as anything more than good, but not great, filmmaking.
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In two separate stories, viewers look inside the depths of the couple's relationship. In one storyline, Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) are unhappily married. Their young daughter has lost her dog and screams out its name to find it. The dog, like the passion in her parent's relationship, won't be recovered easily.
To escape from their everyday lives, Dean asks Cindy to spend a leisurely night with him at a hotel while their daughter goes to her grandparent's house. Dean and Cindy arrive at the hotel and spend the night in a room decorated like a space station. It's an appropriate choice because the couple seem to be millions of miles apart from each other. Dean is happy with his life and doesn't want to do more with it. Cindy is hoping for something more in her future. Dean is childish and Cindy is mature. The couple have only grown apart from each other since they first met.
As these scenes unfold, the movie flashes back to when Dean and Cindy, the unhappily married couple, were both single. At the time, Dean was moving furniture for a living. He was a sweet and passionate guy who always seemed to be looking out for other people. When he moves an older man’s belongings into a senior care facility, he is sure to decorate the man's apartment for him hoping to make the move more palatable.
While visiting with the man, Dean spots a young woman across the hall. He introduces himself and starts flirting with her. Her name is Cindy and Dean is immediately attracted to her. After he leaves, he keeps thinking about her and wants to see her again. Neither individual knows where their relationship is headed but when they start seeing each other on a regular basis, they begin to fall in love.
Love doesn’t last though. Not for Dean and Cindy.
As the story flashes back and forth, the couple's relationship is explored in a painfully intimate way that might make audiences uncomfortable. The story even takes some disturbing and explicit turns. When Cindy doesn’t want to sleep with Dean in their hotel room, Dean asks bluntly if she wants him to rape her. He may have started out young and romantic but as his marriage has grown stale, he has become bitter and angry.
My greatest disappointment with "Blue Valentine" is its lack of tenderness or compassion for its lead characters. Audiences are asked to look at this couple's lives from a cold dispassionate standpoint. The ups and downs of their marriage are well-done in the film but at times, it's difficult to understand why the characters make the choices that they make. Instead of feeling a connection to the characters onscreen, audiences are simply asked to watch them transform from uncommitted romantics to married wrecks.
In the years to come, “Blue Valentine” will likely be remembered more for what it tries to accomplish rather than what it actually accomplishes. In capturing the beginning and the likely end of a relationship, the story takes a lot of risks in showing how people change over time and sometimes fall out of live. The movie tries hard but it doesn’t create the relatable or understandable characters that are necessary for “Blue Valentine” to have the emotional impact that it should.