Sunday, February 6, 2011



Director: Derek Cianfrance


Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance, CAMI DELAVIGNE & JOEY CURTIS


Run Time: 112 min.


Raw, devastating and poignant.

In 2006, more than 550 screenplays competed to win the prize of $1M of funding in the Chrysler Film Project. Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine was the winner of the contest. While not entirely a labor of love, it certainly depicts love's labor.

The film follows a young couple's relationship at two stages: the conception of early love and the decay of exhausted affection. Dean and Cindy are the two halves of a working-class Pennsylvania couple with a daughter who is about 6 years old. She is a nurse and he is a house painter. The movie alternates between the events of early courtship and the fractured marriage of the present. Dean is a blue-collared worker who has this goofy romanticism that is hard to dislike. Cindy is a college student pursuing medicine, full of hope for the future and eager to separate herself from a dysfunctional family. They meet, fall in love and seem to be destined for a “happily ever after”. But as we see the current day, six years have taken their toll. Love has faded into the background of responsibility and bickering. One sees the marriage as a journey to a destination not yet defined while the other sees it as a destination where one has arrived. One hopes that the best is yet to come while the other thinks that things are fine as they are.

Dean and Cindy are likeable but flawed characters, each in their own right. We cannot fault one or the other entirely. What makes matters more difficult is the fact that there is no physical abuse, addiction, infidelity or financial secret that is corrupting the relationship. The film is a study in juxtaposition: past versus present, man versus woman, love versus hate, youth versus maturity, beginning versus end. The film sits squarely on the shoulders of its two leads played remarkably by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Williams plays Cindy as a hopeful student who turns into a skeptic who is on the verge of giving up on herself and everything. Gosling embodies Dean who is unflinchingly honest with himself but still far from perfect. A story like this has to have some autobiographical roots. After seeing a couple of pictures of Derek Cianfrance, one can see why Gosling was chosen for this role and why his looks are modeled the way they are. His Dean fits right in amongst the populace in the area known as NEPA (North Eastern Pennsylvania).

Since the story does not follow a linear format, it has to rely on the leads to connect with the audience and they certainly shine. It is disappointing to note that Gosling was not nominated in the Best Actor category for the Oscars. It is a remarkable achievement that these two actors can successfully portray the changes between early 20s and late 20s because the physical differences are quite subtle but the personalities and emotional states have come a long way in 6 years. The film ends on a somewhat bitter note that leaves room for the audience to form their opinions about the outcome and future. The film was initially given a NC-17 rating due to some racy scenes but was eventually reversed on appeal. Rightfully so, as it has nothing to deserve a restrictive rating.

The title is derived from an old Tom Waits song called “Blue Valentines”. If you check out the lyrics, you will see why it is such an apt title for this story set in eastern Pennsylvania. (If there ever was a song ripe for a good cover version, this is one.)

It is easy to identify with Dean and Cindy as two people that we know in the world around us and it is a little frightening how sympathetic we are to the breakdown of this marriage. At first, I was a little frustrated with the movie because there was no clear cause for where this relationship ends up. I wanted to be told what exactly went wrong. I decided, at the time, that I didn’t like the movie so much. About ten days later, I found myself still thinking about the movie, the characters and the possibilities. That is when I reluctantly admitted to myself: does one really know what exactly went wrong in any relationship? I certainly don’t. But if this little indie gem makes me connect with its characters after so long, then it is just that, a gem.

Download this: All the compositions by Grizzly Bear, especially “Lullaby”. Ryan Gosling’s version of “You always hurt the ones you love” in a goofy voice. “You and me” by Penny & The Quarters.