Dean (Ryan Gosling) works his blue-collar job and takes pleasures in the simple things in life, mainly beer and his family. Although rough around the edges, Dean is a romantic at heart. Dean’s wife Cindy (Michelle Williams) is a nurse who is looking to further her career. Cindy is growing tired of Dean’s childlike ways and the distant between them begins to surface. In a last ditch effort to save their marriage Dean and Cindy decide to have a weekend away for just the two of them. Yet the trip hits a major bump in the road when Cindy runs into an old boyfriend, Bobby (Mike Vogel), at the store.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Blue Valentine was my favourite film at TIFF this year. In many ways it felt like I was watching the fictional version of another great film I saw at TIFF, Allen King’s A Married Couple. Some will liken the film to Revolutionary Road, but I think it is more along the lines of François Ozon’s brilliant 5X2 more than anything else. Still, make no mistake Blue Valentine is a film that charts its own path. The reason I allude to 5X2 is because of the way time is manipulated in the film and the secrets which the manipulation reveals.
Blue Valentine continually jumps back and forth between the present and the past. Cianfrance gives equal weight to both the couple’s happier times in the past and their current turbulent state. As the film progresses, key details from past relationships are revealed as well as the ramifications they have on the present. This not only impacts the characters in the film, but how the viewer reacts to them as well. The film, similar to relationships themselves, is never as clear cut as you think it will be.
The key to Blue Valentine’s success is in the astonishing performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Gosling brings so many layers to the role that you wish the film went on for another two hours just so you can delve into Dean’s mind a bit more. The thing that I loved about Gosling’s portrayal is the fact that Dean never goes to the level you expect him to physically. This is most evident in the “infamous NC-17 inducing” scene. Despite the amount of times Dean is prodded, he always keeps his values in check even when he has reached his breaking point. Michelle Williams is equally mesmerizing as Cindy. It is only in the flashbacks that the cracks in Cindy’s character begin to show. At first it appears that she is just fed up with Dean’s immaturity, yet there are much deeper issues at play. The fact that I could not stop wondering where the characters ended up after the film was over is a testament of the wonderful work of both actors.
Blue Valentine does not hit theatres until December 31st and hopefully the NC-17 rating will be re-evaluated by then. This is a film that needs to be seen for both the story and the performances. It may have taken Derek Cianfrance 11 years to get the financing together for Blue Valentine, but it was worth it in the end. It was my favourite film at TIFF; and is one of my favourite films this year.