Blue Valentine

There are really two couples onscreen in director Derek Cianfrance’s new film “Blue Valentine.” Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), the beautifully breathless, stumblingly infatuated young adults who make out in Laundromats and slow dance to classic Motown, are, haltingly, hopelessly realizing they can’t live without each other.
Flash forward a few years later, and Dean and Cindy, now balding and exhausted, are raising a child and desperately denying that there is no way they can continue living with each other. The contrast between these love affairs ó because both are manifestations of love, however wrenching ó makes the best movie that came out in 2010 the hardest to watch. But, oh, is it worth it.
The film focuses alternately on two days during the disintegration of Dean and Cindy’s marriage and flashbacks to when they first fell in love. The two lovers first meet at a nursing home where aspiring nurse Cindy is visiting her grandmother. Cindy spies Dean, on the first day of his job at a Brooklyn moving company, carefully arranging the belongings of an ailing man who was just committed. By the time he leaves, the room is a miniature version of the house the visibly grateful man just left He runs into an intrigued Cindy on the way out. Awkward but charming, he insists she takes his number, scribbled on the back of a business card.
This accidental meeting, along with the ensuing blushing jokes and hopeful plan making, mirrors so many real life love stories, that it is impossible not to watch and recognize parts of yourself in this romance.
It’s not a sparkly romance, or even a great date movie. But how many of our own relationships would look packaged and neat onscreen?
The stumbling way in which the two leads fall in love is seamless, a testament to the immense talents of Gosling and Williams, who prove to be some of the most subtle, commanding actors of their generation.
Williams, who was just received an Academy Award nomination for this part, plays the older version of Cindy with quiet, almost repressed sadness, making the scenes in which she finally lashes out at her husband some of the most arresting and gut-wrenching in the film.
Gosling, playing the spontaneous-turned-irratic Dean, has never embodied a more tragic hero than in this everyman. The wordless frustration he embodies in a simple clenched jaw says more than any emotional dialogue ever could. The fact that he himself was not nominated for an Oscar is the most egregious oversight of the awards season.
Years later, things, as they often do, go sour, and this is where the movie earns its “depressing” reputation. Dean, now balding and still without much direction, is immature and quick to pick fights. Cindy, harried and stern, tells him bitingly that she “doesn’t like raising two children.” They spend a night in a themed hotel room and play the song they once claimed as theirs, smiling sadly, swaying through the absence of what once was there.
These scenes are emotionally shattering. They are heart-breakingly horrible, especially when inter-spliced with the earlier rapture of the infatuation. But they are compelling and necessary, and what inevitably set this movie apart.
The flashback/flash forward format is part of makes this film so sad, yet so affecting, because there are still sparks of love in both. The way Dean holds Cindy now is not so different from how he held her then, but because of time, age, and whatever unnamable factor it is that ruins relationships, there is no turning back.
The plot of “Blue Valentine”† is simple, and the actions are nothing completely exceptional in the scope many young people’s lives. Yet, it is because of this truthfulness to life, this relative “normalness,” the movie is completely enthralling. It captures reality in a devastating, even painful light, something all movies should, but rarely do.
The film ends in a blaze of fireworks ó the black sky highlighted by a crescendo of color. As the sparks fade, a silhouette of Dean and Cindy kissing flashes across the scene. Moments earlier, the couple walked away from each other, Dean’s back fading equally quickly as Cindy watched him go.
“Blue Valentine” blazes in this way, showing just as much consideration for life’s momentary miracles, its transient beauty as for the dark that follows after.