When it’s put down on paper – or, in this case, pixels on your computer screen – the plot to Blue Valentine is fairly unsubstantial. It follows Dean and Cindy through their marriage at the beginning and at the end. Their loves, losses, fights, sex, and everything in between. Pretty basic, huh? However, if you brush over the plot, you’ll be missing something tremendous. The film succeeds in surpassing expectations of a boring plot and turns itself into a fascinating character study.
The primary thing that makes this film work is the acting. Michelle Williams (who has gained an Oscar Nomination for her role) and Ryan Gosling (who received a Golden Globe nomination and very well should have gained an Oscar Nomination) really make this film believable. Both characters are never painted as “the bad guy” but they’re not painted as “the good guy” either. There is a balance struck within the characters that the actors truly convey: both characters are likable and attainable but they have their faults.
Gosling plays a character that always seems on the brink of something whether that be anger or disgust or sexual delight. He constantly twists Cindy’s words around for better or worse. Williams plays a character that pretends to be starry-eyed innocent despite living in a broken home.
It is truly the faults that slowly ebb away at their marriage. Dean works at a dead-end job where he is bordering on being an alcoholic, while Cindy works as a nurse – never fully obtaining her dream of being a doctor. They have a child together, Frankie, but even that seems complicated. The beginning of their relationship shown in flashback (and 16mm film from what I’ve read) holds such promise and is one of those instances of love at first sight, but it turns out that that type of love may not be the only thing that can hold up a relationship.
One particular thing, that I don’t typically notice, is that the make-up on the film is astounding. It makes the characters believable and flawed in their appearance – from the blotchy skin on a leg, to the simple loss of hair.
On top of that, the editing is simple and predictable but smoothly effective. The concept of switching time frames back and forth in a quicker speed is not new, but the symbolism, motions, and poses cut into each other in something so far past beauty. Shots waiver and hover with such striking and unflinching precision that it is hard not to be consumed by them. The director Derek Cianfrance shows a mastery over his film, and truly extracts out some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen in quite awhile.
Ultimately, this film is a must-see.