Review: Blue Valentine – Like Slowly Digging Through Your Flesh to Get Out a Splinter

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams

I doubt that this movie will do much for most people. It is drawn out, windy and stagnant. Yes, the critics are correct in their assessment: it was well crafted, well written and greatly acted – the characters were believable, multidimensional, and understood their parts intimately; it was a technically great movie, adhering beautifully to meter, rhyme and figure of speech – as Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. from Dead Poet’s Society in his book “Understanding Poetry” would say. But the movie left sort of a blah aftertaste in my mouth. I think that’s the case because it doesnt really have a plot or moves along, or even carries some kind of a meaningful message that would make up for its otherwise overly dramatic, whiny tone. For two hours you sit through this movie and really don’t understand what the bottom line is; what the commotion is all about and what these characters actually want.

Blue Valentine is a micro-dissection of a failing marriage that is filled with a lot of pain, tears and melodrama, which at some point felt exaggerated because the characters never express any other emotions. They are sad and gloomy all the time and no one knows why it has to be so darn difficult. The movie follows Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) falling in and out of love over a short period of courtship and childbirth, flashing back and forth from present to when they met.

Dean and Cindy unhappy, even when they were supposed to be happy

While the illogical nature of love is one of my favorite topics, here it feels pointless on the screen. Many weighty elements dont seem to be meditated on by the filmmaker, and one of the question that inevitably arises is Why are they Fighting? So ok, these two people got married young for the wrong reasons and now it is not working out for one of them. Why is that such a big deal and the end of the world and grounds for so much drama and gut-wrenching pain? It is not like they were the greatest, most profound lovers to begin with,  so why should we care?

After two hours of tedious back and forth, tears and drama, you still can’t see point.

The folly with Blue Valentine is that it never answers the most important question: Why? Why are these people fighting and why did they fall in love? Have they simply grown apart? Did Cindy finally realize she married him to get out of the house and not because she was in love with him? Or maybe they’re just insufferable people who have no business trying to love another person. None of these questions are really answered or even eluded to really. It just shows you they are sad and suffering, and sad and suffering.

Sure you can make intuitive guesses as to the source of the conflict, of growing apart, of the alienation, but there is no evidence for it in the story. There is just a severe disconnect between the flashbacks of a supposedly happier time between the two lovers and the dreary present.

This movie would have us believe that there existed some kind of a truly passionate, loving relationship between the two which, in turn, is making their separation from one another even more painful.

Cindy wants out

But the reality looked different. No passion, love and sincere feelings between the two are exhibited. All throughout the movie I kept wondering what one saw in the other and why anyone would think that they really loved each other as clearly Cindy didn’t love Dean. In fact, she is selfish, cold and unlikable and throughout the movie she seems kind of insincere toward Dean; like she was merely putting up with him and their child until the life she really wanted came along.

The two time periods shown in the film seem drastically far apart. There aren’t any scenes of the genesis of their relationship that point to the present turmoil, connecting the two disparate worlds. How, why, did they change so much and why did they fall in love in the first place?

These people got together for the same reason millions of other young people get together: boredom, the need for companionship, destitution or a desire to “get out of your parents’ house” under the belief that married live somehow holds the secret to happiness. Cindy and Dean are one of those people. They aren’t special, they didnt have a great love, nothing earth shaking that would make it to the “biggest love stories of all time” list. We simply have no reason to root for these two or care that their (mostly phony) marriage ended. In fact, I would be surprised if it hadn’t ended.

It’s crucial to good storytelling that there’s some explanation of what went wrong or the motives and driving forces behind the characters’ actions — and if not, it at least should be made clear that this is a story about how – in spite of no specific reason – sometimes these things happen. But not so in Blue Valentine.

If crucial narrative pivots are left too open-ended, a story is destined to lose its voice. While Gosling and Williams inhabit their roles fully, one quickly realizes that the failure to connect leads to the audience feeling lost, unable to empathize or fully understand why any of this is happening or why the characters are behaving the way they do.

I must also mention that Goseling was miscast He is being made to act and behave older than he can pull off and that beard of his looked like one of those glued on beards in school plays. Michelle Williams’ character was not very likable and in fact so selfish that it was hard to sympathize with her from the beginning – which is not the movie’s intention obviously. If a character portrayal evokes the exact opposite feeling in the audience than originally intended, you know something is off.

In summary, while well crafted, this movie did feel like slowly pulling hairs for no apparent reason. They stretched out a simple story and artificially created an elaborate drama for two hours over a subject that could have been resolved in twenty minutes of film time. In the end this movie was just as pointless as Dean’s and Cindy’s courtship, and eventual marriage.

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