Blue Valentine Review
Perhaps not one for a romantic Valentine’s Day date-movie – the clue is possibly in the title – Blue Valentine does however succeed in capturing something of the charm and magic of the moment when circumstances bring two people together, even if in the case of Dean and Cindy, it can’t quite pretend that everything is right and perfect and destined to result in a case of happy ever after. The highs and the lows are played out in the alternative interwoven strands of the film’s structure, their meeting and falling in love played out in flashback while the present-day narrative shows that their marriage is going through something of a difficult patch.
More than just being a conventional means to fill-in a backstory, or even just a means to provide some ironic counterpoint, the structure has a more significant purpose in its demonstration that, ultimately, time destroys everything. Blue Valentine, I hasten to add, is perhaps not quite as relentlessly bleak and brutal in its exploration of the destruction of a relationship or as experimental with its narrative structure as Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, or indeed as tumultuous as François Ozon’s examination of the break-up of a marriage leading backwards to the roots of its demise in 5x2, but the seeds of destruction in the relationship between Cindy and Dean are unfortunately present at its inauspicious beginning.
The interwoven flashback approach feels much more naturalistic here than in either of the two aforementioned films, showing the good times side-by-side with the not-so-good, but Derek Cianfrance doesn’t seek to over-emphasise or use irony in the contrasts, even if there are one or two neat visual dissolves that mirror the contrasts between past and present. Nor does the film seek to apportion blame for the failures in the marriage onto either one person or the other. That’s not a case of striving for a balanced view as much as the fact that it soon becomes apparent that the reasons for the two of them getting together were flawed in the first place.
On Cindy’s side it’s a bit of a case of marry in haste, repent at leisure. Cindy is pursuing a career in nursing and medicine, but is on the rebound and pregnant with another man’s child and desperately seeking a solution. She’s certainly not convinced by the pushy charm of a removal man she meets at the rest home where she is looking after her own grandmother, but Dean is kind, thoughtful, charming and romantic – perhaps idealistically so – and he makes her feel better at a difficult time in her life. Dean meanwhile doesn’t seem to be overly ambitious in his choice of career, is a little too unconcerned about when he takes a drink and his pushy charm is not so compelling when it comes to dealing with real-life problems.
None of these issues on their own are necessarily deal-breakers, and that’s a more realistic way of treating them than we are accustomed to see in relationship dramas, but the differences that lie between them do indeed grow into something insurmountable with the passing of time. In this respect then, the film's structure is not so much about using irony or counterpoint to reflect the differences in the relationship, as much as helping the viewer understand and feel what they are going through. Watching their lives with their little daughter, having seen the circumstances under which they have come together, the viewer is just as willing to see them work things out as they are themselves, but the reality of how mismatched they are and how ultimately this will take its toll is also consequently painfully evident.
The performances of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling go a long way towards making this convincing, Williams in particular allowing her character to being disarmingly open and vulnerable, the hurt that inevitably ensues showing in her every confused action and reaction. Gosling has more of a role to play, but that’s inherent in the nature of his character, and it’s a tribute to his performance, and undoubtedly the script, that one can see there is a decent person there, who has been beaten down with the passing of time and has found himself in a situation where his efforts are only going to cause further conflict and confusion.
Maybe not a date-movie for Valentine’s Day then, but if you are in a relationship that can bear the intense, frank scrutiny that Cindy and Dean’s marriage is subjected to, or indeed you think it’s about time to take a hard look at your own marriage, then Blue Valentine opens the discussion in an intelligent, realistic and thought-provoking manner, if not one that is necessarily going to lead to any comfortable realisations.